This is not the Italian team that was so underwhelming in 2008 and 2010. Manager Cesare Prandelli has brought in a more open, adventurous style of play, featuring a new generation of talent. Old heads like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo bring the experience factor while newer faces Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli have had a refreshing impact.
The Italians have put together a string of promising results and, if some of their more temperamental characters are on song, could be one of Euro 2012’s surprise packages.
In The Dugout – Cesare Prandelli
Prandelli has made great strides since replacing Marcello Lippi after the 2010 World Cup, bringing the squad closer together and putting his faith in promising younger players. With almost 20 years of managerial experience, including spells in charge at Parma, Roma and Fiorentina, he knows the Italian game and has taken great pride in putting his country back in a position to compete.
The results speak for themselves – eight wins and two draws in qualifying for the tournament, admittedly against relatively weak opposition. The real tests and the real judgement await on the big stage.
Key Player – Antonio Cassano
It has been a rollercoaster year for Antonio Cassano, featuring excellent contributions to Italy’s qualifying campaign but a tough season for AC Milan that was derailed by what was described as a "mini stroke" in October. After being sidelined for over five months, he is back, rested and ready to star as Italy’s talisman.
Without the injured Giuseppe Rossi and with question marks still hovering over Balotelli’s readiness to take on a central role, Cassano’s creative spark and eye for goal will be critical. Given the classy passing in the Italian midfield, he should get plenty of goalscoring opportunities.
View from Italy
Rarely have the Italians arrived at a tournament without the weight of expectation – and this summer will be no different. The outcry after the World Cup failure is an indication of the fans’ expectations and failing to reach the last four would be met with more frustration. There is a sense that now is the time to show that Serie A – and Italian football in general – is on the rise again, especially after match-fixing raids on a number of Serie A officials and players marred the squad’s preparations. Indeed, this latest bout of investigations has some pointing to parallels with the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 when Italy responded by winning the World Cup.
The Italians should be considering a quarter-final spot the bare minimum. In Group C, they have more weapons than Croatia and the Republic of Ireland and may even push Spain close – but, on the other hand, this tournament is a learning experience for many players and there are understandable concerns over where the goals will come from, the number of temperamental characters in the squad, and the impact of a new match-fixing investigation at home.