's complete coverage of the FIFA World Cup 2002 World Cup



o At a Glance
o Team Profile
o Key Player
o Weak Point
o X-Factor
o How They Qualified
o World Cup History
o Bottom Line

After being only seconds away from winning the European Championship title in 2000, Italy can't wait to start its quest for a fourth World Cup crown in Asia. Touted for having one of the world's best defenses, its key for succeeding in the tournament will be in attack.

The Italians have averaged just over a goal a game in their last three finals appearances. Will only one striker do the trick for manager Giovanni Trapattoni in Japan and South Korea? Or will he risk two? That could decide their fate.

As the countdown to the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan continues,'s Pedro Pinto will take a close look at all of the nations that will contend for football's greatest prize.

Pinto is an anchor on World Sport, the international sports show that airs live on CNN/Sports Illustrated and CNN International.

With veteran Paolo Maldini leading a back line that also features stars Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and Marco Materazzi, Trapattoni should not have to worry about conceding a lot of goals. But questions start arising in midfield. Damiano Tommasi and Luigi Di Biagio seem to be the men picked to do all the dirty work in the middle, but who will run the wings? Stefano Fiore, Angelo Di Livio and Gianluca Zambrotta occupied those spots in qualifying, but that doesn't mean they have sealed their spots in the side.

The situation in attack is also far from being resolved. Trapattoni has been under pressure to play two up front, which would mean Francesco Totti moving back to midfield so Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi could play together. What will happen to Alessandro Del Piero then, and Vincenzo Montella, Marco Delvecchio or even the legendary Roberto Baggio? Surely they will not be too happy siting on the bench. It is obvious there is a plethora of talent, but will too many possibilities undermine the team's consistency?

Francesco Totti. He has blossomed into one of the world's most talented players and will be the brain of Italy's midfield and attack. The question is, will he be used behind the striker, or as a creative midfielder? At Roma, he normally plays right behind Gabriel Batistuta and has flourished in that role, not only getting plenty of assists, but scoring goals himself. And of course he is a permanent threat from set pieces. If there are any doubts about his true value, just take this into account: he has relegated Del Piero to the bench.

Goalscoring. It seems strange that scoring goals would be a problem for a nation that has strikers like Vieri, Inzaghi, Delvecchio and Montella. But that has been their main stumbling block in the World Cup. As a matter of fact, they have only scored more than two goals in a game once in their last three finals appearances. They did have 16 goals in eight qualifying games, but that is not an impressive record if you consider that they were playing mediocre sides like Romania, Georgia, Hungary and Lithuania.

Squad rotation. Trapattoni will want to keep his camp happy by giving playing time to stars like Del Piero, Delvecchio, Montella and Inzaghi. But will cameo appearances satisfy these players? It seems Totti and Vieri are first-choice picks for attack, so there could be a lot of unhappy faces on the Italian bench.

Italy finished first in Europe's Group 8 with an undefeated record. It won six games and drew two against Romania, Georgia, Hungary and Lithuania. Its defensive record was impressive, conceding only three goals, while scoring 16.

Italy has qualified for 15 out of 17 finals. It has played 66 matches, winning 38, drawing 16 and losing 12. It was champion in 1934, 1938 and 1982, and runners-up in 1994.

If Italy doesn't make the semifinals, its campaign will be deemed as a failure back home. Trapattoni has a lot of pressure on his shoulders but he has the experience necessary to cope, so I expect him to lead his nation to the final four. It does depend a lot on whether he can keep all of his stars happy throughout the tournament.

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