Ageing Italy look only outside bets to win again

By Mark Meadows

Marcello Lippi's side were unbeaten in qualifying but failed to consistently shine, with aging World Cup winners struggling to live up to their billing.

Good young players in Serie A are few and far between, meaning Lippi has had difficulty finding the right mix between experience and youthful energy and that could count against them during the June 11-July 11 tournament.

However, the 62-year-old manager is still very excited.

"I can't wait to enter into that whirlwind of emotion. I can't wait to look my lads in the eye," he told reporters.

Italy's starting line-up is not even confirmed with Lippi trying various formations.

Gianluigi Buffon will again be the goalkeeper but injury and Juventus's poor form have reduced his confidence.

The defense is much shakier than in past years with captain Fabio Cannavaro much more error-prone at 36 than he was when gloriously leading his side to victory at Germany 2006.

Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo look secure in midfield and, despite injuries, Juve pair Mauro Camoranesi and Claudio Marchisio seem to be the best bet for the flanks even if Marchisio is not left-footed.

Alberto Gilardino, the top scorer in qualifying, is set to lead the line but his partner up front has yet to be decided.

Vincenzo Iaquinta was in pole position but injury has limited his recent effectiveness meaning Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale and a selection of others could come into the running.

Italy's displays in qualifying were dominated by slow buildup play and recent friendlies have bored sparse crowds.

On the other hand a relatively easy Group F with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia suggests they should make the knockout stages where their international pedigree will be very useful.

As in 2006, when the players bonded in adversity, Italy again enter the tournament with a Serie A match-fixing scandal developing.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)