IRENE, South Africa -- Marcello Lippi is getting tired of hearing that Italy's players are too old to win the World Cup again. And he doesn't appreciate the rampant skepticism over his squad -- even back home.
Lippi lashed out at Italy's critics at his first chance upon landing in South Africa on Wednesday, pleading to at least give the team a chance to prove itself.
"Yes, we have old players, but with age comes charisma and the experience of playing in big games. I think we have the right mix of young and old players," Lippi said. "We have nine players from 2006 -- that's less than 50 percent. I've never seen any team that wins the World Cup show up four years later with 23 new players.
While Lippi has kept the likes of 36-year-old Fabio Cannavaro and 33-year-olds Gianluca Zambrotta and Mauro Camoranesi, he has also brought along three 23-year-old defenders -- Salvatore Bocchetti, Leonardo Bonucci and Domenico Criscito.
The average age of the squad is 28 years, 9 months.
Still, the new players have not proved themselves yet and most analysts are picking Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England as the favorites, with the defending champion hardly ever mentioned.
Criticizing the national team has become a sort of national sport in Italy over the past few weeks.
"Whenever a World Cup comes around everyone wants to get in their say. Last time everyone joined in as we moved along, but this time we're not going to allow anyone to jump on the bandwagon," Lippi said.
With standout midfielder Andrea Pirlo likely to miss the entire group phase due to a left calf injury, Italy is without its most talented player.
"Single players don't win World Cups. Let's be clear. There are no longer any superstars in Italy, and it's not like anyone I left home would alter the skill aspect," added Lippi, who was criticized for not even considering talented but temperamental forwards Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
Lippi recalled that his team was very nervous before the 2006 opener with Ghana and didn't feel truly confident until its memorable extra-time win over Germany in the semifinals.
"If we would have had to play that game at the start it would have been much tougher," he said. "We may not be perfect in the first game here, but hopefully we'll build ourselves into a solid squad as we go along. This is a team I hope goes very far -- all the way."
The 62-year-old coach even went so far as to mention that the squad could contain a "new" Paolo Rossi -- the striker who scored six goals in the last three games at the 1982 World Cup.
Giampaolo Pazzini, an unsung forward who scored 19 goals for Sampdoria this season, has already been compared to Rossi.
"Let's see," Lippi said. "Who knows, maybe we'll discover someone here who can really carry us on their shoulders."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press