Defence deities Italy developing cracks at the back

Cracking stuff for Italy at the weekend. Well, cracking in the sense of a broken rib, broken wrist and dislocated shoulder.

Such have been the ills and misfortunes suffered by Azzurri players Fabio Grossi, Alessandro Gamberini and Gennaro Gattuso in the last 48 hours.

While the first two suffered their injuries in the get-out-of-jail win in Cyprus which had the Italian press letting out a collective sight of relief - “Italy by the skin of their teeth,” ran the headline in Gazzetta dello Sport – the Milan man pulled off something of a freak injury.

Falling into the dug-out during a training game on Sunday, the midfield enforcer fractured his wrist and will spend the next month or so no doubt having his Rossoneri team-mates scribbling get well messages on his plaster-cast.

Fractured wrist consigns Gattuso to treatment table

Broken but not bowed is how Marcello Lippi will face Georgia on Wednesday.

There should be no repeat of the headless-chicken-defending witnessed in Cyprus as Lippi is not only touched by that magic dust of good fortune but he is not the type to make the same mistake twice.

It would be surprising if the Georgians are given the sort of space and time afforded Cyprus but while the attack and midfield have numerous options to see the world champions safely through to South Africa, it’s the traditional bedrock of the team that’s a cause for concern: the defence.

Gianluigi Buffon’s performance in Larnaca once again strengthened his status as the world’s best goalkeeper and to replace Dino Zoff as the country’s all-time number one.

However, after that it’s all looking a bit creaky at the back. Apart from Alessandro Nesta and Massimo Oddo, Lippi has retained the backbone of what has become known as “The Berlin Wall” – the heroes of 2006.

None are getting any younger and where are the new generation to replace the ageing Fabio Cannavaro and Marco Materazzi?

Only 24-year-old Giorgio Chiellini, currently out injured, seems a viable long-term option in the heart of the defence.

Chiellini: The future of Italian football 

Gamberini is 27 and, despite some sterling displays with Fiorentina, seems to have that fragility which has hindered both Andrea Barzagli and Daniele Bonera’s progress at international level.

Nicolo Legrottaglie will probably start alongside Cannavaro against Georgia but he has turned 31 and may not even be a Juventus regular for much longer.

Seeing that Italy’s World Cup successes in 1986 and 2006 was built around an impenetrable defence, it does not bode well that so few young defenders are making the leap into the starting line-ups of top sides.

Inter, Roma and Milan can field a backline of foreign imports without a thought for local talent but it’s the coach’s job to unearth a few gems so let’s hope that Lippi luck is shining on him.