Balotelli banished as Lippi chooses team men

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Marcello Lippi’s final squad before having to decide on the 23 players who will carry the hopes of a nation to South Africa has garlanded more coverage of those missing from the party to face Cameroon than those actually called up.

Such games are generally an opportunity to verify if a player’s club form can morph into that of an international in the space of 48 hours or so.

No easy task, but the past has often demonstrated that a rough diamond can shine through: Antonio Cabrini in 1978, Paolo Rossi in 1982, Salvatore Schillaci in 1990 and Fabio Grosso in 2006.

Lippi has gone for a goalkeeper, a central defender and attacking midfielder to cover just about all bases.

Salvatore Sirigu has the best chance of claiming the third keeper’s shirt while Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Cossu will have to prove something very special to force their way into the reckoning.

Such pivotal positions as central defender, where Bonucci plays, and the midfield fulcrum in which Cossu operates demand lightning-rod performances.

This was why Lippi was somewhat put out when Alessandro Nesta snubbed him after initially seeming to be open to a return to the fold. It's almost as if when push came to shove, AC Milan reminded the veteran who stood by him when the rumours were circulating that his career was over following a lengthy spell away from the game with a chronic back problem.

But considering that the Roman went to the last three World Cups and was crippled by injury before the knockout stages, maybe it's for the best that Lippi looks somewhere else.

From the past to the future and the thorny issue of Mario Balotelli: the 19-year-old’s omission means that he will not make his debut on Lippi’s watch. The clamour to include the Inter youngster has been growing amongst the country’s 60 million or so coaches.

But as with Antonio Cassano, the populist vote will not sway the man in charge – who can always, if cornered by a would-be Mister on his selection decisions, pull out his World Cup winner’s medal.

Hang on, is that Jimmy Hill?

If you accept that each of the players heading to the World Cup is technically proficient and in some cases sublimely gifted, then it's team tactics that win the big prize.

Lippi demonstrated that perfectly last time in Germany, where he used his outfield squad to the full and where Francesco Totti played no greater part in the grand scheme of things than, say, Alessandro del Piero.

The players at the coach’s disposal were all experienced, athletic and above all, team men. In the semi-final, Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta were kept on the bench until extra-time.

Strikers they may be but if you look back at the game you will see that they tracked back to cover along the flank - and of course, being fresh, they were able to burst forward on the counter-attack, which happened when Del Piero scored the second goal, having been set up by fellow substitute Alberto Gilardino.

It's such pragmatism that Lippi will instil once again within the ranks of the defending champions and for all Balotelli’s raw talent his tactical awareness is still at the kindergarten stage.

Jose Mourinho has spent most of the campaign scolding his young charge for not covering back, for drifting out wide when he was told to come inside – for not following team orders.

There has been evidence of late, against Chelsea and on Sunday at Udinese, that it's slowly sinking in that football is a team game – but not to the extent that it can be condensed into a high-stakes month where each player must be ready to adapt to any eventuality.

With little or no hype surrounding the Azzurri, Lippi can plot away in peace, and (injuries notwithstanding) with the following squad at his disposal:

Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), De Sanctis (Napoli), Marchetti (Cagliari)
Defenders: F.Cannavaro, Grosso, Chiellini, Legrottaglie (Juventus), Bonera, Zambrotta (AC Milan), Criscito (Genoa), Cassani (Palermo)
Midfielders: Pirlo, Gattuso (AC Milan), De Rossi (AS Roma), Camoranesi, Marchisio (Juventus), Palombo (Sampdoria), Peppe (Udinese)
Forwards: Iaquinta (Juventus), Gilardino (Fiorentina), Di Natale (Udinese), Borriello (AC Milan), Pazzini (Sampdoria).

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