Measured Trap making no promises
Uefa.com's Paddy Agnew speaks
to Giovanni Trapattoni about Italy's World Cup hopes.
When a TV crew from the Japanese city of Sendai turned up
at the Italian Football Federation's training centre at Coverciano
near Florence recently, coach Giovanni Trapattoni was wary.
Sendai is the city, some two hours north of Tokyo by bullet
train, where Italy will be based for the first round of this
summer's FIFA World Cup finals. The woman from the TV crew
wanted Trapattoni to offer a greeting in Japanese to the people
of the Sendai along the lines of "We are Italy, we are
very good and please support us". The canny Trapattoni
looked sideways at the TV producer and said: "Very good?
I'm not sure if I should go around saying things like that
in Japanese, or any other language for that matter."
Long coaching career
Superstition often plays a big part in the mind of a footballer
and the 62-year-old Trapattoni is no exception, notwithstanding
a 29-year coaching career that brought him seven titles in
Italy and one in Germany, not to mention just about every
major international club competition going. Even if Italy
are logically one of the overall favourites to win this summer's
World Cup, he has no intention of shouting this fact all the
way around the world.
Talking to uefa.com recently, however, Trapattoni could not
deny that his side's World Cup preparations, even allowing
for a low-key showing in the 1-0 friendly win against the
United States, have progressed nicely. "The year 2001
ended well for me, firstly because we qualified for the World
Cup, and then secondly because our first-round draw is not
all that intimidating," he said. "Even now, two
months on, I'm still cautiously satisfied. Remember, we might
have got in a group with sides like England, Portugal and
For the record, Italy head a Group G comprising Mexico, Croatia
and Ecuador with their opening game against the South Americans
in Sapporo on 3 June. Next come Croatia in Ibaraki on 8 June
with the final game against Mexico in Oita on 13 June. Given
the well-documented Italian habit of starting slowly, Trapattoni
is just a little concerned about Italy's opening fixture.
"The first game will be the most dangerous one for us,
partly because we won't know exactly what shape we're in until
we play and also because, inevitably, all the pressure will
be on us," he says. "Remember, too, that Ecuador
are bound to be fired up as it is their first World Cup.
Analysis of rivals
"As for Croatia, they were the big surprise at France
98, finishing third and playing good football. They've managed
to qualify again, even if some of their most famous players
such as [Zvonimir] Boban have retired and that's a sign of
their overall strength. Mexico are a side with a great World
Cup tradition. It looked as if they wouldn't qualify this
time and then they came through, showing terrific resolution
in the games that mattered. Also, they tend to be an awkward
rival for us."
Having toured in Asia with FC Bayern München, Trapattoni
has a clear idea of the climatic conditions he will encounter.
The heat and heavy humidity of summer in the Far East could
severely penalise those sides, especially north European ones,
who base their game on work rate, running and chasing. "Certainly
the side that knows how to spend less energy, to run less
rely more on technique and skill, certainly such sides will
have an advantage", he says.
In that regard, Trapattoni expects one of the African finalists
to do well, despite what he considered the disappointing quality
of the recent African Cup of Nations. He suggests it is best
to ignore the form shown in Mali, pointing out that the tournament
came at a bad time in the season for the players of the stronger
African countries, almost all of whom are based in Europe
and had little preparation.
'Africans could have advantage'
"I believe that the Africans, who after all are used
to hot and heavy climates, could certainly have an advantage
in Korea and Japan. I think that at least one of the African
finalists will rise far above the form shown in Mali."
As for the likelihood of a major surprise this summer, Trapattoni
is less sure. "Obviously, as far as Latin America is
concerned, the two strong teams will again be Argentina and
Brazil, while for the Europeans it will be England, Italy,
France, Portugal and Spain," he says. "You're going
to end up with these sides. I am curious, however, to see
how the local sides get on, Japan and Korea, or even China,
could all do well given the enthusiasm they will generate."
As for Trapattoni's own side, here too there are likely to
be few surprises, injuries permitting. Alessandro del Piero
and Christian Vieri, supported by Francesco Totti will be
his ideal strike force while the Fabio Cannavaro-Alessandro
Nesta-Paolo Maldini trio that performed so well at EURO 2000
will continue to marshal the defence in front of goalkeeper
'Door is always open'
Only in midfield, where late entries Cristiano Doni of Atalanta
BC and Cristiano Zanetti of Internazionale FC may play their
way into the side, can things be expected to change. The Italian
coach, however, denies having a closed mind on team selection,
pointing out that "the door is always open" and
proved the point by naming two debutants, Torino Calcio midfield
player Antonio Asta and AC Chievo Verona striker Massimo Marazzina,
for the friendly against the US, a 1-0 victory.
Stakes are high
As with every Italian coach, Trapattoni travels to the finals
carrying a heavy burden of national expectation. Anything
less than a place in the semi-finals will be perceived as
a failure by both Italian fans and media and could well cost
him his job. "I don't make those type of calculations,"
he said. "And anyway, it doesn't depend on me. I might
get the sack or I might stay. One thing is certain, though,
I will continue to coach."
This article is entitled from "Measured Trap making no
promises", taken from UEFA