Should Lippi call on Totti’s experience for South Africa?

By Steve Mitchell

Francesco Totti (Photo: Roberto Vicario)

In a recent survey undertaken in Italy’s most respected sports daily La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Francesco Totti was voted the most important current player in the country.

The peninsula’s sporting stars as well as those from the worlds of TV and film decided that Er Pupone was the most influential player at the moment with his club mate Daniele De Rossi arriving in second place and Andrea Pirlo making up the top three.

With less than 100 days to go until the start of the World Cup in South Africa, it seems the country is attempting to explain to coach Marcello Lippi that with the Roma talisman in their side, they have a chance to retain the title they won in dramatic fashion on that hot July evening in Berlin four years ago.

The will he won’t he saga as to whether Totti would come out of International retirement for a final swansong in South Africa has made headlines in the peninsula for the past 12 months, ever since the player himself hinted at a return to national team action. The big question facing Lippi is whether to take a gamble on a player whose fitness levels seem to be deteriorating season after season.

The current campaign has been another stop start affair for Totti, he is currently sidelined again with a recurring problem to his right knee which is likely to keep him out of the side until their crunch game against Inter Milan at the end of March, and time is running out for him to be fit enough to be considered in Lippi’s final 23-man squad.

The legendary tactician seems to have shortlisted three players for the role of fantasista, Totti is the obvious choice but there is competition from young Cagliari sensation Andrea Cossu, who made his debut in the 0-0 draw with Cameroon on Wednesday evening, and Juventus starlet Antonio Candreva, who now seems to be adapting to his role at one of Italy’s biggest clubs.

Whilst Totti has the undoubted experience of playing in major tournaments, his two natural successors have the match fitness under their belts, something that may force Lippi to opt for one of his new recruits.

Then there is also the question of temperament — something that Totti has not always been the best exponent of. In the 2000 European Championships in the Low Countries, a young Francesco was instrumental in guiding his country into the final with a supremely confident penalty in the semi-final shootout against the Netherlands in Rotterdam.

But four years later in Portugal, his deliberate spit into the face of Danish defender Christian Poulsen ended his tournament at the first hurdle and tarnished his reputation throughout Europe.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Lippi took the gamble to take Totti to the finals despite his number 10 not being 100% fit — a decision that seemed to pay dividends when he tucked away an injury time penalty against Australia in a tense last 16 encounter in Kaiserslautern, sending his country into the last eight of the tournament – his last act in an Italian national team jersey.

As World Cup fever begins to take hold, Lippi has a serious decision to make. Does he take a gamble just like four years ago and satisfy the public’s clamouring, or does he opt for one of the new kids on the block and risk the wrath of an unforgiving tifosi should things go wrong?

One thing is for certain: Italy’s sports dailies will devote copious amounts of column inches following this most intriguing of sagas all the way to South Africa.

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