Italy right-backs spar over starting spot

IRENE, South Africa, June 22 (Reuters) - Italy's rival right-backs Gianluca Zambrotta and Christian Maggio tried to explain why each was better than the other on Tuesday while attempting to also keep team harmony intact.

Zambrotta has started the Azzurri's two 1-1 draws with Paraguay and New Zealand in World Cup Group F but is under pressure from Maggio for a starting berth in Thursday's game with Slovakia, who Italy must beat to guarantee a last-16 spot.

"If I were coach Marcello Lippi, I would choose Maggio because I am younger and have more quality in attack," Maggio, 28 and with five caps, told a news conference.

"But I'm not angry even if not playing hurts. Gianluca has been doing well."

Zambrotta, a World Cup winner four years ago, has had two decent games but Italian media reckon Maggio has an outside chance of starting in Johannesburg on Thursday with Italy looking to be quicker on their feet and more inventive.

"Criticism in football happens but it upset me before the World Cup that people said I was finished," Zambrotta told his own news conference just down from Maggio's room.

"I'm 33, I've been preparing for this tournament for three months. Have you see how I've been doing at this World Cup?"

Zambrotta added that captain Fabio Cannavaro's place was not under discussion despite the centre-back's errors leading to the two goals Italy have conceded so far.

"He is having a good competition," Zambrotta said.