ROME (AP) — There was the Mario Balotelli-inspired 2-1 win over Germany in the 2012 European Championship semifinals. And long stretches of dominance over Spain in last year's Confederations Cup semifinals — even though Spain eventually won in a penalty shootout.
More than any others, those two matches epitomize the transformation that four-time winner Italy has undergone since its embarrassing first-round elimination from the 2010 World Cup as defending champion.
After years — decades, actually — of lockdown "catenaccio" defense, the Azzurri have modernized to the point where attacking is the priority.
"We began this adventure hoping to prioritize an attacking style of play," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who replaced Marcello Lippi after the disappointment in South Africa. "We have a lot of quality in midfield and we like to take advantage of that."
While it's unclear who will partner Balotelli in attack at the World Cup in Brazil — with Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Ciro Immobile among the options — Prandelli's midfield is virtually set.
Even though he's 35, passing wizard Andrea Pirlo is still at the top of his game and stalwarts like Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Thiago Motta, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva provide a strong supporting cast.
Candreva made a name for himself in that Confederations Cup semifinal match, when he routinely sprinted by Spain's defenders down the wings during a match marked by energy-sapping humidity in Fortaleza.
Memories of that game have shaped the way Prandelli selected his squad this year. He took a long look at fitness data collected from a brief training camp in April to see who is in the best shape at the end of the long club seasons.
Continue reading this story on the...