|Profiles - World Cup Teams - Italy|
After disappointing at France '98, Italy head for Japan and South Korea
with the firm belief that they have a real chance of claiming their fourth
An exit on penalties in the quarter-finals to hosts and eventual winners France four years ago was no disgrace for the side then coached by Cesare Maldini but the bare statistics mask what was a poor showing by the 'Azzurri'.
Two years later at Euro 2000, with Dino Zoff in charge, Italy exceeded expectations as they ground their way to the final where they lost on a 'golden goal' - again to the French.
But the arrival of Giovanni Trapattoni, after Zoff's abrupt resignation, has transformed a solid side, built on an outstanding defence, into a complete unit with the flair and ability to entertain that was lacking from Zoff's side.
'This team can do a lot, it has great potential. At Euro 2000 we were unlucky to lose in the final and now I feel this could be our World Cup,' striker Filippo Inzaghi said recently reflecting a widespread optimism surrounding the side.
Inzaghi believes Italy's all-round quality puts them among the favourites.'There are not many teams in the world who have the players that we have.
'We have two of the best goalkeepers in the world, an excellent defence and very good midfield while in attack we have an abundance of choices.'
When Trapattoni took charge, despite his instincts for a defensive style, he opted for what is effectively a three-man attack, with playmaker Francesco Totti playing in an advanced role behind the two strikers - usually Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero.
Against Romania at the San Siro in 2000 this formation produced one of the best attacking displays Italy have shown in years and the system, used by most of the top teams in Serie A, is best suited to Totti's creative talents.
It is unlikely Trapattoni will want to alter a structure that has been unbeaten in qualifying, though he may look to more defence-minded wide men to limit the risk of exposure to the counter attack. The loss of Juventus' Gianluca Pessotto in the friendly against Uruguay was therefore a big blow as the less consistent Francesco Coco may now line up on the left.
The defence picks itself with Parma's Fabio Cannavaro, Lazio's Alessandro Nesta and the evergreen Paolo Maldini, who will appear in his fourth consecutive World Cup finals, having formed a solid unit ever since Euro 2000.
The loss of AC Milan's Demetrio Albertini is another late blow, one that forces Trapattoni into a reshaped midfield. Lazio's Stefano Fiore and Milan's Massimo Ambrosini, whose chances of making the final 23 had faded this season, stand to benefit.
Assuming fit, Inter Milan striker Christian Vieri takes the number nine shirt, while Roberto Baggio's hopes of a last hurrah on the world stage look to have vanished - despite a near miraculous recovery from knee damage.
Italy last won the World Cup in Spain in 1982. They reached the semi-finals on home turf in 1990 and then lost on penalties in the 1994 final against Brazil in the USA.
Prior to World War Two Italy won the trophy in 1934 and 1938 and this year will be their 11th consecutive appearance in the finals.