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Update: Gianluigi Buffon to miss Italy clash with England

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Earlier today, the news broke that Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had injured his ankle during training, and needed tests to determine whether he would be able to start against England.

The reports are in, and the news isn’t good for the azzurri. The ‘keeper, who’s been first-choice for his country for over a decade, will sit out Italy’s first match.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli first described the injury as a light twist, but after undergoing physiotherapy, the injury was revealed to be more serious than previously thought. There is no word yet on whether Buffon will be available for the game against Costa Rica next Friday, or the final group stage game, against Uruguay, next Tuesday.

In absence of Buffon, Prandelli will deploy Salvatore Sirigu between the sticks. Sirigu has experience at the highest levels, as the starting goalkeeper for Paris Saint-Germain, but he’s also been dealing with injury. His bruised ribs aren’t enough to prompt Italy to turn to Mattia Perin, however. The 21-year-old, who plays for Genoa, has yet to be capped for Italy.

Italy are also without Riccardo Montolivo, who broke his leg in the warm-up match against Ireland and had to be cut from the squad, and Mattia De Sciglio, who was injured in training earlier in the week. Without three of their expected starting XI, will Italy stumble? Or are they strong enough to overcome England?

Buffon a doubt for Italy against England

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When fans of gli azzurri hear the words “Gigi Buffon injury,” icy shivers travel up and down their spine. The goalkeeper has been with the Italian national team since 1997, becoming first choice in 2002 and was between the sticks when they lifted the World Cup in 2006. The current captain is so revered that his nickname is “San Gigi.”

In 2006, Buffon conceded just two goals, keeping five clean sheets during the tournament. But in 2010, he suffered injury and was replaced during halftime of Italy’s first match. The azzurri went on to finish last in their group.

In other words, fans of Italy really, really don’t want Gianluigi Buffon injured.

They’ll be waiting with baited breath throughout the day. Buffon twisted his ankle in training, and is currently undergoing tests to determine if he’ll miss out on the match against England. While the injury at first seemed slight, there are now fears he has done damage to his knee as well.

In absence of San Gigi, Italy have two viable alternatives. Salvatore Sirigu moved from Palermo to Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, and has been solid for the French champions ever since. Also available is Mattia Perin who, at age 21, appears the heir apparent to Buffon’s gloves. But his youth will likely go against him and, should Buffon not be available, it’s almost certain Sirigu will start.

Italy fans will be hoping it doesn’t come to that. Group D, with England, Uruguay and Costa Rica, certainly looks much stronger than the group they were drawn into in South Africa. The loss of their first-choice goalkeeper – and captain, the man that marshalls the not-always-airtight defense – could be devastating.

2014 World Cup team preview: Italy

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Getting to know…Italy
Gli azzurri are aiming to put a fifth star on their country’s crest. Italy have won the World Cup four times. They lifted the trophy the first time they entered (and hosted) the competition, and took it again the next time around. Then there was a wait of nearly forty years before Italy won again, this time in Spain. Their most recent win came in 2006, when the azzurri beat France in a penalty shootout. 

Italy didn’t do so hot in the last World Cup. Drawn into a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand, they looked to be a lock to move on to the next round. Instead, they drew two and finished out by losing to Slovakia, finishing bottom of the group. The azzurri went on to redeem themselves at Euro 2012, however, where they wound up second only to Spain.

If you’re curious as to why Italy are the blues, when their tricolore flag is red, white, and green, it’s all down to royalty. That shade of azure blue comes from one of the royal houses that played a role in unifying Italy. The blue was then adopted in the seal of the Italian presidency, and is traditionally worn by Italian national teams.

Now, if that question comes up in a World Cup pub quiz, you’re all set.

Record in qualifying
Undefeated in ten, Italy took top in UEFA Group B.

But there are a few points to qualify here. First, Italy found themselves challenged by teams such as Armenia and Bulgaria – they’ll be running up against much stiffer competition in Brazil.

Second, nine of Italy’s 19 goals were scored by players not going to the World Cup. Dani Osvaldo, Alessandro Florenzi, and Mattia Destro were not selected, while Riccardo Montolivo was a last minute scratch due to injury. Cesare Prandelli is more about the system than the talents of the individuals, but this still may be cause for concern.

A look at Group D
Italy found themselves in a dangerous group, but not one that’s unbeatable.

Costa Rica are almost certain to go out, especially with two of their best players injured. The real struggle will be among Italy, Uruguay and England. Uruguay head to the tournament with a rather aged squad, but if Luis Suárez is fit, they’re almost certain to get through to the next round. Then again, England are likely prepared to sit back and close down an opponent, keeping a solid defense to ensure they progress.

In other words, this could very well be one of the groups in which advancement is determined by goal difference. Which could make things very exciting indeed.

Game schedule

Saturday, June 14 at 6 p.m. ET: England vs. Italy (Arena Amazonia, Manaus)

Friday, June 20 at 12 noon ET: Italy vs. Costa Rica (Arena Pernambuco, Recife)

Tuesday, June 24 at 12 noon ET: Italy vs. Uruguay (Estadio das Dunas, Natal)

Star player

Hands down, it’s Mario Balotelli. He lifted Italy to near-dizzying heights in the last European Championship, and if he’s on form, he’ll be the one pulling them through to the later stages.

Notice we’re talking “star” quality, here. If you’re looking for the key to Italy’s play, that lies with Andrea Pirlo. When the midfield maestro is at his silky-smooth best, Italy ticks along beautiful. But if the opposition man-marks Pirlo out of a game, the azzurri start to struggle.

But Balotelli is a star. He’s a star in the way he plays – he’s capable of getting himself into dangerous positions, where he’ll either produce a sublime finish in the tiniest amount of space, or, yes, win his side a penalty. The drama definitely follows wherever Balotelli goes. He’ll appeal to the referee, he’ll sulk if taken out of the game, he may even set off fireworks in his hotel room. But it’s worth it to watch him score goals.

Manager
Cesare Prandelli was brought on from Fiorentina in the summer of 2010, but unfortunately for the azzurri, he didn’t actually take the reins until after their dreadful World Cup. He then reworked the side, guiding them to the final in Euro 2012.

Prandelli is an interesting character, emphasizing coherence in the squad almost above all else. Players that violate his Code of Ethics will find themselves on the sidelines. He certainly plays favorites with the Italian players, but it can’t be denied that he knows what he’s doing. His Italy side plays a patient game with a rather slow build up – but don’t go calling them defensive. Let’s leave that old stereotype aside, shall we? They’re respectable enough at the back, but it’s the midfield play that makes them shine.

Secret weapon
Gianluigi Buffon. This will be the 36-year-old’s fourth World Cup, and his fourth as the starting goalkeeper for Italy. His time in South Africa was cut short, however, when he left at halftime in the first group stage game. Injury kept him out of the remaining matches – and we know how Italy fared.

Instead, the captain will want to replicate his performance at the 2006 tournament, when he let in just two goals, keeping five clean sheets. Known as “San Gigi”, it’s Buffon that will rescue Italy if the defense falls apart. While prone to occasional gaffs, he’s still one of the top goalkeepers in the world, and he’ll likely pull off at least one heroic save to prove it.

Prediction
Apparently people don’t like it when I joke about friendlies carrying great predictive value. But, while Italy have a strong squad, they’re not flashy, and they’re unlikely to make it past the quarterfinals. If they finish top of the group, they’ll most likely emerge from the Round of 16 to face Spain, where they’ll be outplayed as they were two years ago. If they finish second, I’m tipping Colombia to be the ones that send them home.

Italy 23-man World Cup roster announced

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Italy has announced the 23 players that will be on the plane to Brazil. The biggest surprise? Giuseppe Rossi is not included.

The Jersey-born forward made the decision to represent Italy, and would’ve gone to the 2010 World Cup had he not been injured. Now, injury keeps him from Brazil as well – Rossi was spectacular for new side Fiorentina in the first half of the season, but missed the second half, and looked a shadow of his former self when taking on Ireland on Saturday.

Roma forward Mattia Destro also didn’t make the cut, despite scoring 13 goals in 20 appearances. It’s a reminder that Cesare Prandelli places a heavy emphasis on team discipline, and Destro’s decision to punch Davide Astori during a league game probably didn’t sit well with the Italy coach.

Noted bad-boy Mario Balotelli did make the squad, however.

Also left behind are defenders Christian Maggio, Andrea Ranocchia* and Manuel Pasqual and Brazilian-born midfielder Romulo. Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo was ruled out with injury after breaking his leg during the Ireland match.

*Ranocchia will travel with the azzurripending fitness of Gabriel Paletta and Andrea Barzagli

Italy 2014 World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain)

Defenders: Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)

Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris St. Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St. Germain)

Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

Riccardo Montolivo fractures leg, will miss the World Cup with Italy

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Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo will miss out on a trip to Brazil after fracturing his left leg in Saturday’s goalless draw with Republic of Ireland.

After a collision with defender Alex Pearce, Montolivo attempted to walk off his injury. But it was clear he was in pain and, just eight minutes into the friendly, needed assistance to make his way to the sidelines. He was carried away on a stretcher and sent straight to the hospital, where X-rays confirmed a fractured tibia.

After the match, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli confirmed that Montolivo will undergo surgery in Milan and will miss the World Cup. It’s heartbreaking news for Montolivo who, at 29, is unlikely to get another chance at the tournament – unless, of course, he ages as well as Andrea Pirlo.

It’s upsetting news for Italy as well. Although Prandelli has yet to announce his 23-man squad, Montolivo was almost certainly going to be included in the roster. While many azzurri supporters are not fans of the midfielder, alleging that he drifts out of games and often contributes little, he’s a favorite of Prandelli.

And it’s fair to say that Montolivo will be missed in Brazil. His eye for a pass and ability to get himself into positions that trouble the opposition’s defense helped to spur Italy’s attacks. His most likely replacement, Marco Veratti, is still young, contributes almost nothing defensively and has a definite tendency to disappear in matches. He’s an exciting young talent, but Italy may end up missing Montolivo’s refinement and his leadership.

The azzurri have other concerns as well. Alberto Aquilani, who replaced Montolivo after his injury, left the game before halftime with a concussion. His Fiorentina teammate, Giuseppe Rossi, missed nearly half the season with injury, and failed to impress during the Ireland match.

In 2010, Italy left South Africa after the group stages, picking up just two points from what looked to be a rather weak group. Will this be another disappointing World Cup for the azzurri?