We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.
Appearance: 17th overall, 14th consecutive
Last time there: 2006 (champions)
Best performance: Four-time champion (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
No introductions needed here. Italy is one of the elite sides in all of international soccer.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that they're a contender again this year.
The 2006 champions aren't back intact, but enough key players return, with help from oodles of depth available.
Look in the back. Goalie Gianluigi Buffon might be the best player in the world at his position. The Juventus star looks to be in fine form for this summer. He's helped by Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluca Zambrotta on defense, and Fabio Cannavaro, at nearly 37 years old, can still play at a high level.
The midfield in Italy's 4-3-3 formation features more of the world's top players. Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo are capable, experienced players who make up for maybe not being as lightning-fast as some of their counterparts with a wealth of experience and the ability to see things other players can't see.
Up front, there is more experience, as 30-somethings Antonio di Natale and Vincenzo Iaquinta lead the attack.
It's a very favorable draw for the defending champions, as New Zealand and Slovakia should provide little resistance, and Paraguay isn't as talented or deep.
June 14 vs. Paraguay (Cape Town)
June 20 vs. New Zealand (Nelspruit)
June 24 vs. Slovakia (Johannesburg -- Ellis Park)