Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Italy. Click here for the full archive.
FIFA world ranking: No. 13.
How they qualified for Germany: Won UEFA Group 5 with a 7-1-2 record.
Previous World Cups: 15 appearances (1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002). Champions in '34, '38 and '82, runners-up in '70, '94.
Manager: Marcello Lippi, second year with team.
When it comes to national hysterias, the Recovery Watch for the injured superstar Francesco Totti is only slightly less consuming than the one England had for David Beckham before World Cup '02 (and only because no Italian newspapers demanded prayer vigils for Totti's fractured left fibula). Totti made it back onto the pitch in time to make the cut after undergoing surgery in mid-February for his gruesome injury. But whether he regains total fitness is another story. We think he'll be ready, but if he's not, the Italians will clearly be the weaker for it.
The ageless Paolo Maldini has finally retired from international play, but Italy's central defense will be familiar even to casual fans: Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta have been fixtures for nearly a decade. Yet Lippi has made several changes in the midfield and front line since taking over after Euro 2004. AC Milan clubmates Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo bring their familiarity to the central midfield, while big Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino have become Lippi's first choices up top. Whether there's space on the field for the aging Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri remains to be seen.
It's hard to say how rattled goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will be by the investigation into his alleged gambling, but he remains one of the world's most highly regarded netminders.
What to watch for
It's a question worth asking: Is Italy a fading Old World soccer power? The Azzurri were sent packing in the second round of World Cup '02 by South Korea (albeit thanks to some controversial refereeing) and they failed to survive the group stage at Euro 2004. Italy breezed through qualifying for Germany 2006 but did so in what may have been Europe's easiest group, so plenty of questions remain.
Give Lippi credit for going with some new (and younger) faces and emphasizing that nobody's spot on the team is secure. As with any Italy team, the hardened back line won't make many mistakes. The challenge will be to play with an attacking mentality, which hasn't always happened in recent years (despite having some delightfully creative players). Playing in one of the two toughest groups at the World Cup means Italy can't afford to have a slow start this time around.
Group: E (United States, Czech Republic, Ghana).
Key match in group stage: June 12 vs. Ghana. If the Italians can get three points off the bat against the most lightly regarded of the Group E teams, it will make their qualification immensely easier. Nobody wants to face Brazil in the second round, which means teams will be trying as hard as possible for three points in every game.