Veterans risk being cut from Italy’s squad
Fabio Grosso, the player who converted the decisive penalty kick in Italy's victory four years ago, has already been cut.
Mauro Camoranesi, a fixture on the right side of Azzurri's midfield since his performance in Germany, could be next.
Coach Marcello Lippi still needs to trim five players from his World Cup squad and even veterans from the 2006 team don't feel at ease.
"(Lippi) has always said that he's not taking anything for granted based on previous relationships," defender Gianluca Zambrotta said Tuesday at Italy's training camp in the Italian Alps. "We've all got to convince him that we're worthy of going to South Africa.
"Nobody is assured of their place, whether it's me, Camoranesi or (Gennaro) Gattuso."
Like Grosso, Camoranesi struggled at Juventus this season. The Argentine-born Camoranesi missed two months due to a right thigh problem between December and February and never recovered his form.
Making matters more difficult for the 33-year-old Camoranesi is the emergence of Simone Pepe, who is seven years younger and is comfortable playing on both the left and the right, as he's shown at Udinese over the past three seasons.
"I played for two and a half years on the right, then six months on the left, so either side is no problem – whatever the coach wants," Pepe said, refusing to be drawn into the debate over Camoranesi. "The decision is up to the coach. Camoranesi is a great player, from whom I've learned a lot."
Lippi appears to be putting a premium on versatility, which also favors Zambrotta, who has shifted back and forth between left and right back – sometimes during the course of a game – over his 92 appearances with Italy.
Zambrotta had been at left back until Grosso took over that spot on the 2006 team, prompting Zambrotta to shift to the right.
"After Grosso was cut I don't know which side I'm playing on anymore, to be honest," he said. "But it really doesn't matter."
Zambrotta, who is also 33, doesn't roam forward along the flanks with the same speed as he used to. But he can still be effective.
"As you age you begin to use your experience more than your physical attributes," said the AC Milan player. "I go forward less now in terms of quantity, but when I do it's with greater quality."
Newcomers Christian Maggio and Domenico Criscito appear to be battling for the final starting spot in defense, with Leonardo Bonucci and Mattia Cassani also options on the flanks.
"All four have a chance to be a starter. They're all strong players," Zambrotta said. "Our defense was our strong-point in 2006 and we lost that a bit at the Confederations Cup. We need to get that back in place."
Besides a penalty from Zinedine Zidane in the final, Italy allowed only one other goal during its near-perfect performance in 2006, and that was an own-goal from Cristian Zaccardo against the United States. At last year's Confederations Cup, the Azzurri allowed five goals over three matches and were eliminated after group play.
Scoring has also become a problem, both at the 2008 European Championship – when Italy lost to eventual Spain in the quarterfinals – and at the Confederations Cup.
Lippi seems inclined to use Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta in attack, meaning Marco Borriello, Fabio Quagliarella and Giuseppe Rossi are each on the bubble, with Quagliarella apparently in advantage over the other two.
The final decisions will be made by June 1, when Lippi must submit his final 23-man list to FIFA.