GROUP D
Italy

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

The Azzurri looked in pretty good nick during qualifying, winning their group with a couple of games to spare. Reaching the Euro 2012 final and a decent Confederations Cup run-out last summer have raised hopes of a respectable showing in Brazil – certainly compared with the traumas four years ago in South Africa.

However, injuries and a shrinking talent pool means coach Cesare Prandelli has been forced to juggle his forward line, and you get the impression this Italy side will always be a man or two short of following in the footsteps of illustrious predecessors.

THE DREAM

An immaculate Italy team barely break sweat against the English, who run about like mad dogs in the Amazonian heat. Having caressed the ball around the middle of the pitch for long stretches of the second half, they beat them by two clear goals late on, before overcoming Costa Rica in similar fashion and sitting tight for a draw with the Uruguayans.

Winning the group, they avoid the hosts and the Spanish, leaving the way clear for a run all the way to the final against the Brazilians, who fall apart under the burden of expectation. Campioni del mondo! Again.

THE NIGHTMARE

The Group D draw prompted gloomy media mutterings, and even a few conspiracy theories (generally laughed off, though expect them to resurface if things go really badly).

One traumatic scenario sees a sluggish midfield caught out by a pacy England in the heat of Manaus; then, with a makeshift strikeforce firing blanks, the team dig in deep and scramble around for draws against Costa Rica and Uruguay, stumbling out of the group as runners-up (something of an Azzurri specialty). Even then, Brazil, Spain or Holland could lurk in the quarters, and a tonking may ensue.

THE STATS
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PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

Have a point to prove: Gabriel Paletta

The 28-year-old centre-back would love to win a title in Brazil, what with having been born in Buenos Aires and represented Argentina at under-20 level. The Liverpool flop turned Parma rock made his Italy debut in March.

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

BAG A PREMIER LEAGUE MOVE: CIRO IMMOBILE

The Torino striker has been bubbling under for a couple of seasons and is now set for a breakout tournament after establishing himself at the busy end of the Serie A goalscoring charts.

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

MAKE A(NOTHER) SHOCK COMEBACK: ANTONIO CASSANO

Cassano, now 31, hasn’t appeared in an Italy shirt since the Euro 2012 final. However, his sparkling form in an entertaining Parma side has prompted plenty of calls for his return.

DID YOU KNOW?

religious Prandelli has lined up HOLY SITES to visit ON midnight pilgrimages, made on foot WITH his coaching staff, a practice established AT EURO 2012.

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Not quite the force they were - including in qualification - but Italy's blend of intrinsic knowhow and youthful endeavour could prosper.