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World Cup 2014 Preview: Prandelli hoping to lead Italian renaissance

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Things didn't exactly go as planned for Italy in South Africa, and Italian fans will hope manager Cesare Prandelli can guide the side to a better showing than in 2010.

After winning the 2006 World Cup, the Italians fell flat four years later and failed to reach the knockout stage of the competition.

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Prandelli was officially hired on May 30, 2010 and replaced Marcello Lippi after the 2010 tournament and he brought with him a more attractive, attacking style of play.

"It's now obvious that you can't get results without playing attractive football," explained the coach when he first took over.

Since becoming boss, Prandelli has led Italy to the 2012 Euro final, and a 14th consecutive spot in the World Cup.

Often below par during qualifying before raising its game at final tournaments, Italy went about things differently for once by taking control of its European qualifying group quickly.

The group appeared to be tricky as it included Denmark, Czech Republic and Bulgaria, but the Italians surged to the top of the group finishing unbeaten and locking up a spot in Brazil with time to spare.

The Italians head into the World Cup as one of the elder statesmen of the group as their two most influential players have a combined age of 70 and the top striker is battling an injury.

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Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is one of the few holdovers from the 2006 side, and at the age of 35, will play in his fourth World Cup, while 35- year-old midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo still makes the attack go.

Pirlo, who like Buffon was in the 2006 World Cup-winning team, has helped Juventus dominate Serie A over the last three seasons and remains one of the world's great free-kick specialists.

Volatile forward Mario Balotelli will lead the line for the Italians after Fiorentina forward Guiseppe Rossi was left off the roster, as he is recovering from a knee injury.

Balotelli is certainly a prolific scorer, but he can be prone to erratic mood swings that can turn the tide of matches if they occur at an inopportune time.

But when he is under control, he can be lethal in front of goal. He netted 13 goals for Premier League side Manchester City in 2011-12 and helped the Citizens win the league crown that season before moving to AC Milan in Serie A.

Balotelli has scored 26 goals over two seasons for AC Milan and has 29 caps and 12 goals during his international career.

Balotelli will have some help up top as forwards Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci have been scoring goals in bunches. Immobile led Serie A with 22 goals and looks poised to shine on the big stage.

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At the back, central defender Giorgio Chiellini has anchored the defense since Fabio Cannavaro retired from international competition after the 2010 World Cup.

The Italians will face some tough competition in Group D with England, Uruguay and Costa Rica, but the team is certainly capable of reaching the knockout stages.

Prandelli will be hoping to lead an Italian renaissance in Brazil.

[SportsNetwork.com]

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