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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.

Canny Trapattoni
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.

Progressing nicely
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 Denmark."

Task ahead
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.

'Dangerous opener'
"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."

Climate change
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 and
rely more on technique and skill, certainly such sides will have an advantage", he says.

African threat
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."

Usual suspects
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."

Likely lineup
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 Gianluigi Buffon.

'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 Magazine.