Who needs Capello! Lippi's Italy don't know how to lose

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Can Italy go another 20 games or so unbeaten?

That’s the number of internationals, give or take the Confederation’s Cup and a friendly here or there, that would see the Azzurri crowned world champions again come 2010.

Maybe not, but any defeats that do come along are likely to be few and far between.

The national side finished off 2008 in the most positive manner, top of their World Cup qualifying group and – following their 1-1 draw in Greece – writing Marcello Lippi into the record books.

One more game undefeated and the silver-haired supremo will hold the record outright for an unbeaten run with a national side.

Luca Toni heads Lippi into history books 

He has now drawn level with Argentina’s Alfio Basile and Javier Clemente of Spain, but more importantly - on the home front - he's overtaken Vittoro Pozzi’s record set back in the 1930s.

As La Gazzetta dello Sport headlined on Wednesday: “Only Lippi wins.”

OK, it may have been an indication of the low-key nature of the match against the Greeks, but 'Lippi' and 'wins' certainly go together.

What does going on a 31-game unbeaten run at international level count for when there’s nothing physical to hold in your hands and wave above your head?

Brazil are next up, in February at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, a fitting opponent to seal Lippi’s legendary status.

More importantly, Italy will head into the spring qualifiers in fine heart and, with the likes of Ireland and Bulgaria offering little competition, leaving only Macedonia pose as a potential banana skin.

No one wants to miss out and even though the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Rino Gattuso and Luca Toni were all carrying knocks, not one player dropped out of the trip to Athens although Fabio Quagliarella spoiled his good-looks by busting his nose in training.

However, Udinese won’t be asking the Italian FA to foot the bill for a bit of plastic surgery as there has always been excellent relations between clubs and the federation.

When the national side needed a left-back and there was no one coming through to replace Paolo Maldini, the request went out to Juventus to switch Gianluca Zambrotta over from right-back.

The Turin club, who once upon a time provided the bulk of the national team, duly obliged and the problem was solved.

There is, however, a slight dilemma looming and that concerns the form of captain Fabio Cannavaro.

We are getting used to seeing some fragility in the white of Real Madrid but unfortunately that’s now creeping into his performances in a blue shirt.

There’s no denying his experience – just five caps away from Maldini’s record of 121 international appearances – but with him being nearly 37 when South Africa comes around, he needs a fresh pair of young legs alongside him.

On the other hand, Giuseppe Rossi’s arrival on the scene gives the attack plenty of youthful vigour.

If the 21-year-old maintains his progress – playing like an assured veteran after just two caps – then any discussion about Alessandro Del Piero returning can be laid to rest, although no doubt with much gnashing of teeth by those who can’t let go of the past.

Rossi: Ready to displace Del Piero once and for all 

All in all, there is no better time to be an Italian footballer, in particular Simone Pepe and Christian Maggio.

Six months ago, neither were even mentioned as potential internationals but look at them now – almost sure-fire certainties to be part of the new Lippi era.

Let the good times roll and here’s to another 31 games undefeated.

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