Pirlo's push forward is crucial for Italy

By Mark Meadows

MILAN (Reuters) - Andrea Pirlo ought to be more dangerous than usual at the World Cup given that the midfielder has recently been playing much further forward for Italy than he does with AC Milan.

The 30-year-old is often content to ping 30-meter passes from the halfway line for his club side, knowing Ronaldinho will support the strikers.

Italy, however, have no obvious attacking midfielder and Pirlo has been encouraged by coach Marcello Lippi to play much closer to the two strikers.

The result has been some splendid assists but the World Cup winner still does not look entirely comfortable roaming around the edge of the area.

Pirlo turned down a move to Chelsea when ex-Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti left for the London club, surprising some pundits who thought experience in a different league from Serie A would stand him in good stead.

However, like England, the Italian league is becoming increasingly faster and more physical and Pirlo has toughened up accordingly although he can still get knocked off the ball too easily.

Scoring has always been a problem because of his deep positioning but a tally of eight goals from 65 caps could be improved upon in South Africa given his more advanced role and the fact that he is likely to be the main free kick taker.

"Italy are difficult to beat because we always have an organized team, we are a group that has been together for a long time," Pirlo told reporters. "We remain among the favorites."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)