Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—As the Italian national football team prepares for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil, two Italy veterans played down the Azzurri’s chances of winning a historic fifth title. Italy faces a tough challenge competing against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica to qualify from Group D.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with two Italian football legends, former Italy and AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini and former Inter Milan and Italy striker Christian Vieri, who are in Riyadh to promote their fashion label “Sweet Years.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via a translator, Maldini—Italy’s most capped player—said: “Unfortunately, there is not a lot of talent in the ranks of the national team at the moment, but on the other hand there is a visible tactical improvement led by Coach [Cesare] Prandelli . . .perhaps more than before.”
“I do not rule out the Azzurri reaching the second round, but I do not think they will reach the final, particularly when you have Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain. They are all better than Italy at this World Cup.”
Maldini won a total of 126 caps and played in four World Cups. He is widely viewed as being one of the greatest defenders to have played the “beautiful game,” coming second in the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Vieri was not much more optimistic than his national team captain, and questioned the Azzurri’s competitiveness.
“To be frank, I do not have a clear view of the current Italian national team,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, before adding: “I do not think we have a strong national team that possesses the qualities of fierce competition.”
Vieri, who has played for a host of top teams across the world, including Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Inter Milan, is one of Italy’s most prolific scorers at the World Cup, winning the Bronze Boot at the 2002 World Cup and the Silver Boot in the 1998 tournament.
He added: “But I hope the Azzurri reach the latter stages of the tournament, and this is based on the strength of the Italian defense. Ultimately, there are four or five teams that are better than the Italian national team, but maybe luck will be on our side. Who knows? Perhaps we can reach the final and win the title.”
The two Italy legends also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the current state of Serie A, Italy’s top division. Maldini said: “It seems a lack of finances is one of the attributes of football in Italy at the moment when compared to the English or Spanish leagues. The best example of this is the strength of the competition between the big clubs.
“No Italian team reached the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, unfortunately. This is a sign of the current state of the Italian clubs.”
Vieri said: “Competing in the Champions League is very difficult and everybody wants to win the title. Many factors have led to this [the failure of Italian clubs to reach the final in recent years]. The strength [of Italian teams] has declined, while that of foreign teams has increased.”
“It is difficult to say what is the strongest league in the world, but I personally prefer the Spanish League . . . I think the real football these days is being played in the Spanish league.”