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The contenders: Italy

We're more than halfway through our breakdown of FIFA's top-ranked teams entering the 2010 World Cup.

So far, we previewed: 9) France | 8) England | 7) Argentina | 6) Germany

We move on to the fifth-ranked team, which also happens to be the reigning World Cup champions ...

6) ITALY

Group: F - Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

World Cup history:
4 titles (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006); The Italians are coming off winning their fourth title in 2006. The Azzurri has played in 16 of 18 World Cups and advanced to at least the quarterfinals nine times.

5 key players: Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)

>> Read about Gigi Buffon and other players to watch at the 2010 World Cup

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Outlook: The reigning World Cup champions are never given an advantage in the next World Cup, although that would be a tough sell to anyone looking at Group F. Italy landed in the proverbial "Group of Life," where it faces a virtual walkover in New Zealand (78th), an easily winnable match against Slovakia (34th) and a decent test against Paraguay (31st). According to master statistician Nate Silver: this is "the weakest possible permutation of teams that might have been drawn into competition together."

The recent hamstring injury to Andrea Pirlo leaves the midfield in a state of disarray, so it will be up to Daniele de Rossi spark the team from the middle of the field. The defense is aging with Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta and keeper Gigi Buffon leading the way, but it's a reliable bunch, even if they've all lost a step since 2006.

The offense will rely on the scoring touches Alberto Gilardino and Antonio di Natale, who led Serie A with 29 goals this year. This team has struggled to score goals in international compeititions since 2006, so Lippi's controversial ommission of striker Mario Balotelli could be the subject of debate if their goal-scoring woes continue.

Italy, like many of our favorites, may have some question marks, but they morph into a different animal when the World Cup begins. With such an easy draw, Italy will once again be a feared team in the later rounds of this tournament.

Prediction: It's hard not to see Italy sweeping through this group with nine points.


Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari)

Defenders: Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan)

Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)

Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli)

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