Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Italy, plenty of work to do before World Cup

It might seem a little late in the game for Italy to be experimenting, what with its World Cup opener less than two weeks away. But then Marcello Lippi didn't get to be one of the most successful coaches in history by taking the easy way out.

So when the Azzurri step down from the Italian Alps to take on Mexico on Thursday in Brussels in a World Cup tuneup, they will be bringing a new look with them. And we're not just talking about the lineup, which will be missing winger Mauro Camoranesi and New Jersey-born striker Giuseppe Rossi.

Camoranesi, who helped Italy win the World Cup four years ago, sprained his left knee in practice Tuesday and won't play against Mexico, while Rossi was among Italy's final roster cuts. But it's not so much the personnel Lippi will use Thursday as it is the way he will use
them that is of interest.

Italy has been trying out a 4-2-3-1 lineup in training, and Lippi said it's very much a work in progress. Get news and stories direct from our Sports desk to your inbox with our daily L.A. Sports Connection newsletter.

"One of the two friendlies will be crucial for helping me to clarify my ideas: the one tomorrow against Mexico," Lippi told an Italian sports daily Wednesday. "We'll try the lineup we've been working with … [plus] a few variations in terms of players,"

Mexico offers a good test for Lippi's new formation because El Tri's style of play is similar to that of Paraguay, the team that Italy will face when it opens defense of its World Cup title June 14.

Italy, which last played in March, has one other friendly — against Switzerland this weekend — before it leaves for South Africa. Mexico, on the other hand, has played a grueling schedule leading up to the World Cup. Thursday's game will be its fourth during a 10-day tour of Europe. And the trip follows eight matches in Mexico and the U.S. since late February.

Yet Mexico's midfielder Israel Castro said each new game offers a challenge. Mexico's last game, for example, was played on a poor field made more treacherous by heavy rain. Yet El Tri managed to dominate Gambia, 5-1. So if Mexico encounters poor weather in South Africa, Castro said, they will know they are ready for it.

"We have to take advantage of every game," he said. "Of aspects such as the field conditions, the stout competition, situations we're going to face. Against Italy we have the chance to fix mistakes from the previous games because the start of the World Cup is just around the corner."

The Mexican team is scheduled to leave Friday for South Africa, where it begins two-a-day workouts on Sunday.


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