Defending champions Italy will naturally be one of the leading contenders to emerge triumphant at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ South Africa. The only country along with Brazil to have won the tournament twice in succession, Marcello Lippi's men will be vying to match the performance of their pioneering predecessors in 1934 and 1938.
The road to South Africa
The Azzurri topped Group 8 thanks to their traditional efficiency and pragmatism, even if they failed to set the continent alight along the way. In total, they recorded seven wins and three draws, firing 18 goals and conceding seven.
Italy set the pace in their section right from the off with an opening-day 2-1 victory over Cyprus, and after that result took them to the summit they remained there. It nonetheless took them until their penultimate encounter to seal their passage. Intriguingly, the generations that claimed the world title in 1982 and 2006 also booked their tickets with one match to spare.
Alberto Gilardino finished top scorer for Lippi's team with four strikes to his name, including a stunning hat-trick in less than 15 minutes to down Cyprus 3-2 in their final outing.
The star players
Billed for a number of years now as one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet, at 31 Gianluigi Buffon remains one of the two pillars of the Italian defence. His spectacular reflexes to keep out a Zinedine Zidane header in extra time during the 2006 Final illustrated just why he has an undisputed claim on the gloves.