IRENE // Fabio Cannavaro, the Italy captain, gave fans of the faltering world champions little reason to be cheerful yesterday. In fact, he gave no reason at all. "I am very confident - but I don't know why," the 36-year-old told a half-empty news conference at Italy's base for the World Cup. The fact so few press turned up to see the 2006 World Cup-winning captain in what will be his last major tournament is another indication that few expect the Azzurri to make any major impact in South Africa given recent poor friendly displays. If fans were not already clear about Italy's problems, Cannavaro kindly listed their deficiencies.
"The friendlies weren't as good as four years ago so people are sceptical," he said. "Maybe we don't have a star like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, [Wayne] Rooney. We can't play like Brazil, Spain or Portugal." Marcello Lippi, the coach, has also been employing various formations in training and the players still do not know what system he will use in their Group F opener against Paraguay in Cape Town on Monday.
Cannavaro's usual central defensive partner, Giorgio Chiellini, could switch to left-back while Angelo Palombo, the midfielder, has been training occasionally at centre-back despite having almost no experience in the role. Again, the captain struggled to sound convincing. "With Giorgio we've played lots of times together but whoever is here has the quality to play there. Palombo is an extreme solution who has never played there but he is a very good midfielder," he said.
"For you it might look like a mess but the coach will have the formation in his head. I don't see anything strange." Cannavaro, who will retire from international football after the World Cup, is already looking forward to seeing out the twilight of his career with Dubai's Al Ahli from July. "Certainly Dubai is a different life, different football but there's the sea and it's hot," he smiled, adding that Lippi would make a great coach of the UAE team given the 62-year-old has no plans once he leaves his post after the World Cup.
Germany will kick off their campaign tomorrow with their finest squad in at least six years, liberated from the stereotypes associated with their style of play, according to their players. The three-times World Cup winners are bursting with confidence ahead of the Group D clash against Australia, despite the absence of five key players, including captain Michael Ballack. But to think of them in terms of their past style - a powerful, physically strong winning machine who made up for their lack of skills through sheer determination - would be wrong, captain Philipp Lahm told reporters yesterday.
"We are not typically German anymore," said Lahm. "We have more players who go into the one-on-one situations stronger. Technically, we are much stronger and the unpredictability is greater in this German team than it ever was." "I think this is the best team, with the most quality of all the ones I have played in," said Lahm. The Germans are fielding their youngest squad since the 1934 World Cup but have shown no sign of nerves. "The younger players in the team are really happy to be in the World Cup," said Bastian Schweinsteiger, at 25 among the most experienced members of the squad. * Reuters