Italy’s unexpected, if not undeserved, FIFA World Cup victory in 2006 was built on solid foundations. In seven games en route to defeating France in the final, the Azzurri only conceded two goals.
At the heart of this achievement was captain Fabio Cannavaro. The central defender was instrumental for Italy, especially in the 2-0 semi-final victory over Germany and the final victory in the German capital against France, for which he earned the nickname ‘Wall of Berlin’.
‘My generation was one of the best for the Italian defence,’ says Cannavaro. ‘We could go to Maldini, Materazzi, Cannavaro… Costacurta – a great generation.’
Now retired, the 40-year-old former Internazionale, Juventus and Real Madrid player is assistant coach at Dubai’s Al Ahli. But having played at the previous four FIFA World Cups, the Italian is perfectly placed to predict how the tournament will unfold in Brazil.
Who will win the World Cup?
Brazil or Spain. Brazil because they’re at home and are one of the best in the world right now.
Who will be a dark horse?
Not a surprise, but I think Argentina because they have a nice chance to prepare in South America, and can you imagine if Argentina win the World Cup in Brazil? I think they can do something ‘wow’.
Which player do you think will stand out?
I hope at least one Italian player! But of course there is Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, David Silva…
How do you think England will perform?
England are always one of the favourites because of top players like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, so of course they have the power to win the World Cup. But winning the World Cup is difficult and it’s a long time since England last won, but still there’s a chance. With this coach [Roy Hodgson] you don’t have a lot of pressure like with Fabio Capello or Sven-Göran Eriksson. Now the team is more relaxed.
How about Italy?
Now we have some problems, but with [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Giorgio] Chiellini we are okay because they like to play together with Buffon, because they were together in the UEFA [Euro 2012]. We have Pirlo and [Daniele] De Rossi in midfield, but I like players like [Marco] Verratti. I think Verratti can do very well at the World Cup.
Former clubs: Napoli, Parma, Internazionale, Juventus (twice), Real Madrid, Al Ahli
Career appearances: 531
Italy caps: 135
With Parma: Copa Italia (2), Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Cup
With Real Madrid: La Liga (2), Supercopa de España
With Italy: UEFA Under-21 European Championship (2), FIFA World Cup 2006