Always the unpredictable team, Italy conceded twice in the final five minutes in Tuesday's friendly with Haiti (yes, Haiti), meaning the Azzurri had to settle for a 2-2 draw. That came on the back of an almost-as-disappointing goalless draw in a World Cup qualifier away in the Czech Republic. This, from the same team that upset the odds to reach the Euro 2012 final.
Italy have won only two of their last seven international games, with those wins coming against Malta and San Marino. Hardly a ringing endorsement. Coach Cesare Prandelli doesn't seem to quite know his best formation, and has been prodding and poking his players around the field recently in a bid to change their fortunes. Even more frustrating is that when they do click, they can compete with the best.
Individually Italy are a great team, with a strong defence, well-balanced midfield and two of the best young strikers in the world up front. Hopefully they'll manage to raise their game -- just as in the Euros last year -- and Prandelli settles on an effective formation in time for the tournament.
Projected starting lineup (4-3-1-2)
Prandelli has shown himself to be versatile as a coach, starting with a 3-5-2 at Euro 2012 before shifting to his preferred 4-3-1-2 later in the tournament. His preference for this narrow formation has led to some criticism, though despite experiments with a 4-3-3, he's tended to stick with it. Having said that, he used the 4-3-3 in the recent friendly with Haiti, so at the moment no one really knows how Italy will shape up.
The use of four central midfielders tends to mean Italy are able to control possession, though their attacks can sometimes be a little too predictable. There's a lot of emphasis on the creative play of deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo and the advanced midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, and shutting down these players effectively can mean the Azzurri struggle.
Player to watch
Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy. Picking two players is a bit greedy, but their partnership will be crucial to Italy's fortunes. Individually they're both excellent young players, but at AC Milan they're yet to really demonstrate that they're as good in a combination as they should be. After Balo arrived at the San Siro in January, El Shaarawy's goals dried up, but whether this is the result of an innate incompatibility between the two or just a dip in Il Faraone's form remains to be seen.
Semi-final. Italy have been dumped in a tough group, along with tournament hosts Brazil, Mexico and Japan -- with the latter duo both capable of causing upsets. Should Italy fail to improve on recent form then a first round exit wouldn't be all that surprising, though they should really be able to make it into the semi-final.