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Italy's exit is no surprise, really

Thursday, June 24, 2010
Jun 24
1:45
PM ET

Posted by Zach Benabid

In a vacuum, Italy's Group Stage exit is a shock. The Azzurri, after all, were the defending champions. But the side Italy brought to this World Cup was a shadow of the team that lifted the trophy in Berlin. So perhaps this shouldn't come as such a big surprise.

The popular cry among media pundits was that the Italians were too old; that was the explanation as to why the team struggled in the build-up to the tournament and will continue to be the explanation for the team's disappointing exit. But that is only half the answer. Yes, some of Italy's much-too-old guard remained on this team, including a dreadfully overrated Fabio Cannavaro -- a player of great class in his prime. But Italy also brought players to this tournament who were not so much old as they were mediocre. Simone Pepe, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alberto Gilardino, these are not names that strike fear in the hearts of opponents.

The sad thing for Italia fans is that this mediocrity could have been avoided, at least at certain positions. It's hard to imagine Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi, all left off the roster by coach Marcello Lippi, would not have added a much-needed spark to this Italy lineup. The inclusions of such players would not have ensured an Italian repeat at the World Cup but would have been enough to get the team out of the weakest group in South Africa.

The bottom line, however, is Italia 2010 were world champions in name only, a team living off the accomplishments and reputation of the 2006 team. Their defense was porous. The midfield was without ideas. And their attack was the least dynamic the country has fielded in 30 years. It was a team that wandered aimlessly for much of the tournament. And when it finally awoke, late in the second half against Slovakia, it did not possess enough talent to pull off the miracle it desperately needed.

In some corners of the world, this will be looked at as a shock. But we should have seen it coming from a mile away.

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