Can Italy pull off another sting?

There have been enough stings around the Italy camp over the last week, so the last thing Marcello Lippi wanted was another in Dublin.

Thankfully, Alberto Gilardino soothed away any pain of having to search for a result against Cyprus in the final qualifying game.

It would have been something of an injustice if the Azzurri had lost to the Republic of Ireland.

The game was bookended with two defensive lapses to allow the Irish to score, but in between Marcello Lippi’s men commanded most of the open play – and had a Giorgio Chiellini goal disallowed for an offside that was marginal, if not non-existent.

NEWS: World Cup 2010 section

Andrea Pirlo was back to his majestic best, dancing away from markers to spread the ball wide for eager recipients Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio di Natale.

Camoranesi in particular looks to have rediscovered his zest of old and celebrated his half-century of caps with a well-taken headed equaliser.

It’s not all good news, though.

If Lippi is to go to South Africa with a lone striker – be it Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alberto Gilardino or Amauri – supported by darting wide players, Daniele de Rossi needs a defensive partner in the centre of the pitch.

Angelo Palombo has failed to be that man of steel in front of the defence, all wayward control and a general lack of fluidity in his movement. He’s an honest Serie A player and no more.

So let’s hope that Claudio Marchisio does not turn out to be one of those promising youngsters with legs of glass.

Although he missed the trip for an op on a troublesome meniscus, the Juventus midfielder has been compared to Marco Tardelli (who didn’t hold back in his celebrations when the Irish scored what looked like the winner).

Tardelli knows what it takes to win a World Cup, and in a land where omens abound, the signs are good.

The last two times Italy qualified with a game to go were in 1982 and 2006; on both occasions they headed to the finals as outsiders and came home as winners.

The Azzurri could do some damage with a base of De Rossi and Marchisio supporting wide-men Di Natale and Camoranesi, while Pirlo roams free. But the back-up looks slightly lacking, especially through the middle.

There is, however, a case for the defence – even though the naysayers may gripe otherwise.

If Giorgio Chellini can learn to switch on from the first whistle then a season alongside Fabio Cannavaro at club level should have him primed and somewhat more composed come next summer.

As for other centre-backs, it looks as if Nicola Legrottaglie is not be jettisoned, although it’s still puzzling why Alessandro Gamberini remains on the periphery of the squad.

But other back-ups need to step up: watch out for Andrea Ranocchia who looks for all the world like the new Alessandro Nesta.

The coach will be allowed one surprise and it could well be the Genoa-owned youngster, who is on loan at Bari.

As for Cannavaro himself, it seems that he acted in what could be termed as “good faith” when he received the cortisone-laden jab to bring down the swelling after an irate wasp took out its late-summer frustrations on his exposed arm.

However, Juventus should have informed the Italian Olympic anti-doping controllers forthwith, so we can expect the club to cop a fine and some medical minion to cop the flak.

Anyway, the captain is back with the squad for Wednesday’s encounter with the Cypriots and hopefully Lippi will use the game to give Davide Santon some more experience at right-back while Salvatore Bochetti and Guiseppe Rossi need to see some time on the pitch as well.

From there on it will should be the usual harping on about the Azzurri having no chance unless Antonio Cassano is called up; but no end of Facebook campaigns or media pressure will sway Lippi on his rock-solid decision to keep the Bari ball-wizard in exile.

The Azzurri need tension to get the competitive juices going and after being cast as the elite in the group stages, Lippi will be happy to revert to type heading to South Africa: the poor put-upon underdog without a chance against the big brash world.

It’s worked before...

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