The Italian national team has gone through a resurrection after the appointment of Cesare Prandelli.
The coach has not only given a chance to mercurial talents like Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, but gave the team an identity it lacked at the 2010 World Cup under Marcello Lippi.
In the first major tournament with Prandelli at the helm, Italy surprised the world in the Euro 2012 competition, playing some of the most aesthetically pleasing football in Europe, and going all the way to the final when they ultimately succumbed to the might of Spain.
Along the way, they put in yet another memorable performance against the favored Germans, and captured the heart of neutrals with their cavalier approach.
With a plethora of young superstars coming through the ranks, here is a realistic starting XI projection for the Azzurri when the 2014 World Cup in Brazil rears its head.
Formation: 4-3-3. With all the superstar strikers, expect Prandelli to change from his usual 3-5-2.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon.
- Coach Cesare Prandelli said that Buffon will be his starter until he retires, despite having younger quality substitutes waiting in the wings like Federico Marchetti and Salvatore Sirigu.
Right Back: Mattia De Sciglio.
- The young Milan prodigy is the finest defender coming up from the youth ranks since the early 1990s. He is making is senior team debut at the age of 20, and figures to be an integral part of the back-line.
Central Defender #1: Andrea Barzagli.
- Resurrected his career when he joined Juventus from Wolfsburg, and has been outperforming any other central defender in Italy. Barzagli will continue being a rock of the Italian defensive line.
Central Defender #2: Giorgio Chiellini.
- Provides the toughness and grit mixed with fantastic aerial presence. Chiellini will be at the absolute prime of his career once the World Cup rolls around next year.
Left Back: Davide Santon.
- The naturally offensive Santon plies his trade in England with Newcastle United, where he has impressed with his great ability going forward mixed with sturdy defending and plenty of pace.
Midfielder #1: Andrea Pirlo.
- Despite Pirlo's age, expect the Italian maestro to make his final appearance in an international competition next year. He has been the catalyst behind Juventus' 49-match undefeated streak, and is the greatest deep-lying playmaker in Europe.
Midfielder #2: Daniele De Rossi.
- The hardy Roman midfielder provides a box-to-box presence and can do a little bit of everything for the Azzurri. He'll be in the prime of his career and provide toughness and leadership needed in a World Cup.
Midfielder #3: Claudio Marchisio.
- Exceptional work-rate and able offensively, Marchisio is a utility player who figures to play a similar role as Simone Perrotta in the 2006 World Cup winning year for Italy.
Striker #1: Mario Balotelli.
- Super Mario Balotelli's maturation issues will have been an old story by now, as the Italian superstar will have a chance to live his dream of scoring in a World Cup final. Balo will be slotted in the middle of Prandelli's 4-3-3 formation.
Striker #2: Stephan El Shaarawy.
- Deployed on the left of a 4-3-3, Il Faraone is a managers dream with his diabolical work-rate, running more than any other player on the field as he helps his defenders deal with pesky wingers. El Shaarawy will provide yet another goal scoring threat as he cuts in from the left and delivers curlers with his right foot.
Striker #3: Lorenzo Insigne.
- Another superstar in the making coming up through the Italian youth ranks, Insigne will have taken up a much greater role at Napoli, providing a play-making ability up front with an eye for goal as well.
Despite this mock formation, other youngsters will be on Prandelli's radar.
This Italian side will have the perfect mix of veteran experience and leadership and young flamboyance and talent. Expect them to be one of the favorites for Brazil 2014.
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