x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Italy are feeling under pressure

Fabio Cannavaro can equal Paolo Maldini's record of 126 caps for Italy if he plays against Brazil today.

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro could equal Paolo Maldini's record 126 caps for his country today.
Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro could equal Paolo Maldini's record 126 caps for his country today.

Fabio Cannavaro can equal Paolo Maldini's record of 126 caps for Italy if he plays against Brazil today, but the focus of attention will lean more heavily on whether the world champions are a waning force and about to suffer an ignominious exit from the Confederations Cup. Cannavaro, who lifted the World Cup as captain in 2006 and begun his Azzurri career in Jan 1997 against Northern Ireland, has made the difficult decision to stay in South Africa despite the death of his grandfather this week - and Italy will need him.

Their defeat against Egypt, Italy's first against an African side, has left them under intense pressure going into their final group game. Marcello Lippi's side need to match whatever Egypt do against the United States tonight to reach the last four but must also keep an eye on goal difference, having only a one-goal advantage over their rivals who are also on three points. Egypt, you suspect, will be slight favourites. Their brave performances in the tournament so far have won them plaudits across the board while Italy's below-par displays must surely be a matter for concern, especially as there appears to be a real lack of attacking edge in their play.

In the opening game, for instance, the US more than matched the Azzurri when they had 11 men on the field, and even for long periods when they were reduced to 10, and it was not until Giuseppe Rossi came off the bench and Lippi switched to a 4-4-2 formation that the Italians appeared to have any spark at all. It was a similar scenario against Egypt, when Rossi started but was less influential, and although the goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon remains confident his bravado sounds a little empty.

"We can beat Brazil on Sunday then Spain in the semi-final and Brazil again in the final," he insisted. "Look, Italy are not a team who play champagne football and I don't know why people want us to be the Harlem Globetrotters. Historically we are a combative team and when in good condition we are difficult if not impossible to beat. It was like this even when we won the World Cup." Perhaps Buffon has a point - Italy were underestimated by so many in 2006 - but the Italians do have a case to answer based on their performances in South Africa because whether it is age catching up with them or motivation slipping, it is fair to say their energy levels have been low and the performance levels even lower. It will need a huge improvement against Brazil to save face.

sports@thenational.ae Italy v Brazil, KO 10.30pm ART Sport 4