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Breaking Down Italy's World Cup Roster

With representatives from Napoli, Juventus, AC Milan, and Paris St. Germain among others, this is an extremely varied Italy roster, and in some ways an unexpected one.

Claudio Villa

The Italian roster in in for the World Cup, and once we get through one last friendly on Wednesday, all that's left to do is wait for the first kick against England on June 14th. Given that the friendly is against Luxembourg, it's unlikely we'll learn much from it, but it'll still be a nice little tune-up before the real deal starts in less than two short weeks.

In the meantime, let's take a deeper look at the roster that Cesare Prandelli has chosen to represent Italy in Brazil with a position-by-position breakdown.

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Goalkeeper (3): Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain)

I would say "no surprises here", but even that can't really be said since there were only three goalkeepers on the provisional roster. Even still, the choices weren't surprising; Buffon is Italy's unquestioned #1, Sirigu has been very good for PSG for several years (and was brilliant against Ireland yesterday), and Perin is one of Italy's best young keepers, and just had a very good season for Genoa. Zero worries, concerns, or objections here.

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Defense (7): Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)

Here, on the other hand...

The Juventus trio were a no-brainer to be included, and some combination of two of them will probably start most of Italy's matches. They've got a lot of chemistry with one another, and that always makes things work a little bit better in international football. Being able to rotate them from match to match without wrecking that chemistry is a luxury most national teams don't get with their central defenders.

Choosing Paletta to be the fourth CB is... well, it probably won't matter much as the fourth CB shouldn't see many minutes barring injury. I've never been a huge fan of his, though, and he was one of the worst players on the pitch against Ireland, so I find his inclusion questionable anyways. Though if it was between him and Andrea Ranocchia (which seems to be the case, as Rannochia is staying with the squad as the first standby player), I guess I can't take too much umbrage as the Inter Milan center back isn't any better.

At fullback, things get dicey. De Sciglio looks like he's going to be relied upon at left back, which is an iffy proposition; he's capable enough over there, but he's still very much a natural right back, and struggles against pacier wingers when on his weaker side, as evidenced by the field day Aiden McGeady had yesterday.

Matteo Darmian has some experience on the left as well, but he is vastly better on the right. Ignazaio Abate has virtually no ability on the left, and is inferior to both Darmian and De Sciglio on the right. Keeping him over an actual left back like Manuel Pasqual is a questionable decision at best.

Don't be surprised if De Sciglio struggles at left back and is replaced by Chiellini there. Nobody wants to see it, but he's probably the next-best option at the position, which is terrifying. This is where snubbing Domenico Criscito so publicly as Prandelli did could really come back to bite Italy in the ass.

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Midfield (8): Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris St. Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris St. Germain)

Things could be better here as well, though the injury to Riccardo Montolivo made things a bit harder on the roster's depth. Pirlo, De Rossi, and Marchisio should probably be the first-choice midfield if Prandelli plays more of a 4-3-3 look rather than the narrow diamond we saw yesterday. If he continues with that, playing time for Motta becomes more likely as he's a Prandelli favorite, though he hasn't been good enough for either club or country lately to deserve it.

Aquilani is included despite suffering what seemed to be a concussion yesterday; as long as he can get healthy, though, he offers a more advanced playmaking option that is mostly absent in the rest of the squad, so his inclusion is understandable, if hopeful. His replacement in yesterday's match, Parolo, likely played his way in to the squad with a very solid performance. While he's unlikely to get much playing time, Parolo's role versatility and work rate in central midfield make him a valuable addition to the bench in a tournament format.

Candreva is the only true attacking midfielder/winger in the squad, and will likely get a fair bit of playing time as a result of that if Prandelli elects to play with width in the form of a 4-3-3. Even if he doesn't, though, his ability to play both sides of midfield and his energy off the bench means that Candreva should still get plenty of playing time off the bench as a regularly used substitute to try to change the pace and shape of a match.

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Forward (5): Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

This is a delightfully diverse group, and one packed with quality. These five forwards will give Prandelli quite a few options on how he wants to go about setting up his squad, and that's a great thing to have in a tournament.

Balotelli is the unquestioned number one striker of the lot, with his power, athleticism, and ability to come up big in important moments all being vital in a tournament format. As long as he can keep his head screwed on straight, Italy's chances to advance and make some noise in the World Cup will be vastly improved. His backup will be Immobile, this season's Capocannoniere and the newest signing of Borussia Dortmund, who should be capable of relieving Balotelli for a match or two if needed.

The other striker spot is likely to be headlined by Cassano, with Prandelli a fan of his experience and drive. He won't be able to play every match, however, so there should be plenty of playing time for either Insigne or Cerci, with the other most likely to frequently feature as an attacking substitute. Either could also start on the left of a 4-3-3 as well should Prandelli elect to go that route in any given match.

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All in all, it's a strong roster, if lacking balance and depth in midfield and defense, especially at fullback. Of the seven cuts, Pasquale stands out as the most likely to have played an important role for Italy in Brazil, as there isn't really a true left back on the roster, though as many as three players could see time there depending on how things work out.

It's an interesting group of players that Prandelli has elected to bring to Brazil, and it's actually a younger one than many expected, given Italy's general preference for veteran players. Now we start impatiently waiting for June 14th and Italy's date with England.