The team: It’s never wise to write off Italy ahead of a major tournament, as they proved by becoming the unexpected champions in 2006. And although they quite comfortably advanced from a tricky-looking qualifying group containing Denmark, Czech Republic and Bulgaria, they have failed to really impress for a number of years. Yet this is Italy, the winner of four FIFA World Cups. Write them off at your peril.
The coach: Cesare Prandelli
Italy of old were famous for their defensive stability, and while they’re still fairly solid, Cesare Prandelli has introduced a more attractive, expansive style, which makes sense considering the players at his disposal.
Key player: Mario Balotelli
Despite enduring a tough season at struggling AC Milan, Mario Balotelli can be a match-winner on any given day. While his discipline is sometimes questionable, you can’t deny his raw talent.
World ranking: 9
World Cup appearances: 17
Previous best: Winners in 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
Qualification: Winner of group
Form (qualifiers): DWWWWDWWDD
Fixtures: June 15 vs. England; June 19 vs. Costa Rica; June 24 vs. Uruguay