Lippi unfussed by old guard struggles

ROME - Italy's core of 2006 World Cup-winning players might have struggled for form and fitness all season but coach Marcello Lippi is not fretting with two months to go to his aging side's title defence.

Italian media are especially concerned about the big contingent of players from his former club Juventus, who are enduring a poor season and risk not qualifying for next term's Champions League.

Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro and fellow defender Fabio Grosso have both looked shadows of their former selves, while the campaigns of Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta and keeper Gianluigi Buffon have been disrupted by injury.

Two other loyal Lippi servants from his 2006 squad, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta, have had unimpressive seasons for AC Milan.

But the boss remains confident.

"When we are together for 30 or 40 days, Italy always manage to do something good with players of moral and technical quality, regardless of what has happened with their clubs," Lippi told Rai radio.

"Italy don't go to World Cups to cut a respectable figure, they go to win. We know what it takes to win."

The Azzurri rarely looked like world champions in their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign and exited last year's Confederations Cup in the group stage after losing 1-0 to Egypt and 3-0 to Brazil.

Many Italian pundits say this suggests the world champions need to inject youth into the side.

Lippi has countered that he has not introduced more fresh blood because he has not seen many young players capable of ousting the over 30s.

Besides, Lippi seems almost to prefer older players because he views the physical challenge of the World Cup finals to be secondary to other factors.

"The World Cup is about seven games over a month, we don't necessarily need all the players to be 24 years old," Lippi told FIFA's website last week.

"If I had to use this team over an entire league season I'd probably make some different selections. But for a month it's not a problem.

"You don't judge a player's quality on age or technical ability alone. Enthusiasm, experience, charisma, wisdom, international experience: they're all part of the equation."

Italy are drawn in Group F with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia for the month-long tournament which starts on June 11.

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