FOOTBALL: GROUP-BY-GROUP ANALYSIS: Put a Lotti on Totti and His Italy Side to Go All the Way; GROUP G: Italy, Croatia, Mexico, Ecuador

The Mirror (London, England), May 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

FOOTBALL: GROUP-BY-GROUP ANALYSIS: Put a Lotti on Totti and His Italy Side to Go All the Way; GROUP G: Italy, Croatia, Mexico, Ecuador


Byline: JOHN CROSS

ITALY boss Giovanni Trapattoni could have not wished for an easier group stage or path to the semi-finals.

The Azzurri are the perennial slow starters in every World Cup but not even they can fail to take full advantage of what looks a cakewalk into the later rounds.

Trapattoni is not blessed with a great team by the Italians' very own high standards but they do look to have a genuine chance of enjoying a fourth World Cup success.

They will surely top Group G which includes an ageing Croatian team, unpredictable Mexico and Ecuador, who have qualified for the finals for the first time.

Italy look to be on course to face Poland in the second phase and Germany or Cameroon in the quarter-finals. Only then will life get tougher, with either Spain or Portugal their likely semi-final opponents.

Their danger-man Francesco Totti easily ranks among the best five players in the world. Trapattoni has been experimenting with Totti as one of his main strikers but the Roma forward is much better suited to playing slightly deeper and causing havoc with his runs.

It looks as though he will be used behind the main strike force of Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero.

Roma's Christian Panucci - who was a disastrous signing for Chelsea two seasons ago - and veteran Paolo Maldini make up a back four with Fablo Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta which should rarely be troubled in Group G. And Italy boast two world class goalkeepers in Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo, with Juventus star Buffon just ahead as first choice.

Italy have a prolific boss in Trapattoni who has won seven Italian league titles, one German league title, one European Cup and three UEFA Cups. If you fancy a bet then his side look well worth a punt to earn him more honours.

Croatia may enjoy one last hurrah as group runners-up but time is surely catching up with them. It is hard to see them repeating their glories of four years ago when they thrashed Germany 3-0 to reach the semi-finals.

Middlesbrough's Alen Boksic and former Golden Boot winner Davor Suker still lead the line, despite a combined age which is pushing 70.

Robert Jarni and former Portsmouth ace Robert Prosinecki are the central midfield pairing who can guide an experienced squad into the second round.

Mexico are ranked seventh in the world but remain unpredictable and it is hard to understand why they are rated so highly after an unconvincing qualifying campaign. Striker Cuahtemoc Blanco is easily their best and most exciting player.

But they lack class and consistency, which can also be said for surprise qualifiers Ecuador whose finest ever footballing hour came when they beat Brazil in the qualifiers.

PREDICTION:

1 ITALY

2 CROATIA

3 MEXICO

4 ECUADOR

KEY PLAYER: Francesco Totti (Italy)

ROMA superstar Francesco Totti is the best player of his type in the world and can help inspire Italy to glory in the Far East this summer. …

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FOOTBALL: GROUP-BY-GROUP ANALYSIS: Put a Lotti on Totti and His Italy Side to Go All the Way; GROUP G: Italy, Croatia, Mexico, Ecuador
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