IN the past, it's been pretty easy to know what to expect from Italy at a World Cup.


Outright odds: 25/1

To win group: 13/8

To qualify: 2/5


Full squad: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

World Cup record: Four-time winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), twice runners-up (1970, 1994), third (1990), fourth (1978)

How they qualified (most recent first): Comfortable winners of UEFA Group B, winning six and drawing the other four of their 10 games

v Armenia (home) 2-2 (HT 1-1) Florenzi 24, Balotelli 76

v Denmark (away) 2-2 (HT 1-1) Osvaldo 28, Aquilani 90+1

v Czech Republic (home) 2-1 (HT 0-1) Chiellini 51, Balotelli 54

v Bulgaria (home) 1-0 (HT 1-0) Gilardino 38

v Czech Republic (away) 0-0 (HT 0-0)

v Malta (away) 2-0 (HT 2-0) Balotelli 8, 45

v Denmark (home) 3-1 (HT 2-1) Montolivo 34, De Rossi 37, Balotelli 54

v Armenia (away) 3-1 (HT 1-1) Pirlo 11, De Rossi 64, Osvaldo 82

v Malta (home) 2-0 (HT 1-0) Destro 5, Peluso 90+2

v Bulgaria (away) 2-2 (HT 2-1) Osvaldo 36, 40

Goalscorers: Mario Balotelli led the way in qualifying with five goals; Dani Osvaldo scored four. No Italy player opened the scoring more than once during the campaign and Italy's 19 goals came via 11 different players. Daniele De Rossi was the only other to score twice.

Half-time/full-time: Four of Italy's six wins came when they had led at half-time; one came from behind and the other from a half-time draw. Of their four draws, three had been level at the break but one came when Italy had held a half-time advantage.

Clean sheets: Italy kept four clean sheets at a ratio of 40%; two of these came against Malta, who finished adrift at the bottom of the group. Armenia scored three against Italy but those opponents did win 4-0 in Denmark to suggest they posed a serious attacking threat.

Win to nil: Half of Italy's six wins were to nil. Again, two were against Malta and the other came against Bulgaria at home. They beat both Czech Republic and Denmark at home despite conceding, as they did away to Armenia.

Cards: Counting reds as two, Italy games produced 39 cards at 3.9 per game. Italy received two red cards - both to strikers - but received either zero or one card in six of those 10 games. Notably, their last four saw a marked disciplinary improvement.

Other competitive internationals (most recent first): Italy beat only Mexico and Japan in in last summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil. They did, however, hold both Spain and Uruguay, losing on penalties to the former and beating the latter to claim third spot.

v Uruguay (neutral) 2-2, 3-2 pens (HT 1-0) Astori 24, Diamanti 73

v Spain (neutral) 0-0, 6-7 pens (HT (0-0)

v Brazil (away) 2-4 (HT 0-1) Giaccherini 51, Chiellini 71

v Japan (neutral) 4-3 (HT 1-2) De Rossi 41, Uchida (OG) 50, Balotelli 52, Giovinco 86

v Mexico (neutral) 2-1 (HT 1-1) Pirlo 27, Balotelli 78

Build-up (most recent first): Having completed their qualification with two draws, Italy have added three more in international friendlies, coming from behind to take something from games with fellow World Cup qualifiers Germany and Nigeria. They did lose to reigning champions Spain though.

v Republic of Ireland (neutral) 0-0 (HT 0-0)

v Spain (away) 0-1 (HT 0-0)

v Nigeria (neutral) 2-2 (HT 1-2) Rossi 12, Giaccherini 46

v Germany (home) 1-1 (HT 1-1) Abate 28


Team verdict: In the past, it's been pretty easy to know what to expect from Italy at a World Cup. A solid defence, typically supported by a world-class goalkeeper, would make them hard to beat and allow their star player - ordinarily wearing the number 10 shirt - to carve for them a path to the latter stages.

With four draws and six wins from their group games you'd be forgiven for thinking that it'll be more of the same in Brazil, but Prandelli has built a side who he feels are capable of taking opponents by surprise - particularly with the fluid nature of their play.

Couple this surprise-package element with the attacking talent of Mario Balotelli, Serie A's top scorer Ciro Immobile and the prolific Mattia Destro and once again Italy arrive at a World Cup as a dark horse not to be underestimated, even if they take a slightly unfamiliar shape.

Certainly, much has changed since they finished bottom of a group which included New Zealand four years ago and while there's a sense that we'll see them in a better light at the 2016 European Championships, Italy do now have an eye-catching blend of experience (see captain Gigi Buffon and the evergreen Andrea Pirlo) and youth which could see them go far.

Certainly, I consider them the team to beat in Group D.