Lippi coy on plans for Paraguay clash

IRENE, South Africa - Italy coach Marcello Lippi has not told his team what formation they will play in Monday's World Cup Group F opener against Paraguay, let alone who might be in the starting line-up.

An air of mystery hangs over the world champions, especially after right-footed forward Vincenzo Iaquinta was given special training on how to kick with his left in Thursday's windy session on the South African plains.

Midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who is having "intensive therapy" according to doctors, will miss at least the first two matches with a calf problem and has complicated Lippi's plans but pundits are starting to say the world champions are in disarray.

Experienced former Italy defender Giuseppe Bergomi believes Lippi will play his normal 4-4-2 but with usual central defender Giorgio Chiellini at left back.

"I think he will play four at the back for sure but with Chiellini on the left. That's how he wants to make the defence more compact," Bergomi told Reuters.

"Then that allows a bit more freedom on the left of attack."

World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta has played both left and right back in recent friendlies but would miss out in Bergomi's formation with the quicker Christian Maggio seen as right-back.

"Lippi has always talked about a solid defence. It's what we've got to improve on in this period of preparation," Zambrotta told reporters at their base near Pretoria, where photographs of Azzurri successes are plastered over the walls.

Asked if Lippi might decide to play three at the back having used a four-man defence for two years, Zambrotta added: "We haven't talked about this, we will do in the coming days. We don't know anything. He hasn't told us. We don't know if this means he hasn't decided, or it just means he hasn't told us."

That the holders could be entering a World Cup under such uncertainty may sound surprising but Zambrotta is adamant the team are fully behind Lippi, who steps down for a second time after the finals.

"There is absolutely no perplexity inside the team. There is no problem, no problem with positions or adapting," he said.

"The press has always been against us. We've always set off with 1,000 critics. To be criticised and still perform is in the DNA of Italians."

Italy stayed at the same South Africa base last year for the Confederations Cup and flopped badly, leading newspaper columnists to predict a similar demise this time given their lack of any real form in recent months.

Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, a candidate with Angelo Palombo to start instead of Pirlo in Cape Town on Monday, reckoned the general disparagement could help the team.

"This skepticism will help motivate us. We want to transform this lack of faith, we've got even more desire to perform," he said.

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