Italy, winners of the World Cup in 2006, are Group F favourites despite their recent difficult run. The team are set to face Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
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AFP - World champions Italy arrived in South Africa on Wednesday in defiant mood despite their recent troubles on the pitch.
The azzurri were met by a huge number of police officers as they arrived just before 9am local time (0700GMT) at Johannesburg airport while a handful of hardcore fans waved scarves and shouted their support.
Italy then made their way to the Leriba Golf Lodge just outside Pretoria, their base during their stay in South Africa.
And they arrived amidst some defiant voices and despite some poor pre-World Cup form.
Italy's route to the global extravaganza was straight-forward in qualifying as they were barely stretched by the likes of Ireland, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Georgia and Cyprus.
They qualified with a game to spare but were far from impressive in doing so, failing to beat Ireland and even needing late comebacks to narrowly beat minnows Cyprus both at home and away.
Any hopes that they had come together and would be clicking by the time they kick-off their campaign on June 14 against Paraguay were dispelled in their two warm-up matches.
Coach Marcello Lippi played a first choice XI against Mexico in Brussels and they were beaten 2-1 while this second choice team then needed a fortunate Fabio Quagliarella goal in Geneva to earn a 1-1 draw against a Switzerland team who had just been beaten by Costa Rica.
And yet on the plane, Italy Federation president Giancarlo Abete insisted that people should not write off the reigning champions.
"Italy are world champions, that should not be forgotten but you cannot deny that other teams have done better than us in the last few years," Abete told worried Italian media.
"For everyone the favourites are Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England, but we've got great belief.
"For Italy we're talking about tradition and in big competitions our strengths show through."
Italy are in group F alongside New Zealand and Slovakia as well as Paraguay and it is a group which appears fairly simple to negotiate.
They will have to do so without playmaker Andrea Pirlo, though, at least for the first couple of games as he is suffering from a calf strain.
But Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told Wednesday's Gazzetta dello Sport that the azzurri would be able to cope.
"Even if Andrea misses two games that's ok. Four years ago (Gennaro) Gattuso and (Gianluca) Zambrotta seemed out but then things went differently," he said.
Buffon also claimed that the match against Switzerland had demonstrated the team are starting to find their rhythm, particularly at the back, their traditional strength.
"Against the Swiss I saw signs that we're getting back to our best, but as Lippi says: there's no defence but defensive work, which even the forwards take part in.
"He (Lippi) hasn't let up a bit, at least not with us, he has great belief. I don't know if it's contagious or if we're of the same breed but we want to give him another epic month."
Ominously for Italy's rivals, the team did not seem in good form last time out either, particularly as their preparations had been disrupted by the infamous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal.
And despite a muted opening, they still went on to win their fourth world title in Berlin following a penalty shoot-out victory against France after French captain Zinedine Zidane had been dismissed for head-butting Marco Materazzi.
Date created : 2010-06-09