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Italy and Netherlands qualify for World Cup – how will they fare?

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The traditional powerhouses became the first two European nations to ensure participation in Brazil – but what are their chances of success?

Inevitability played out on Tuesday night as Italy and Netherlands became the first two nations to successfully negotiate their World Cup qualifying groups and book a place in Brazil.

The perennial powerhouses beat Czech Republic and Andorra respectively to qualify, and will now look to continue their momentum towards next year’s tournament in South America. But which side has the better chance of success?

Italy

The Italians have consistently qualified for the World Cup over the last 50 years, with 1958 the last time they missed out. The Azzurri have lifted the trophy on four occasions, with the 2006 success sticking out in the recent memory.

Although Cesare Prandelli’s side do not look as star-laden as teams of the past, you can never write off Italy when it comes to major tournaments. The European nation have a winning mentality and seemingly the ability to close out games when it matters.

The Italians are unbeaten in qualifying, winning six of their eight games and drawing two. Their group contains some half-decent sides in the form of Denmark, Bulgaria and the Czechs, and Italy have went about their business in thorough fashion.

Looking at their likely competition squad, it is based around defensive solidarity, as many Italian sides are. A strong Juventus backbone that consists of the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will mean that the Azzurri will be a tough team to break down.

Mercurial pass-master Andrea Pirlo is still going strong, while Prandelli can call on AC Milan pair Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy as his wildcards.

All-in-all, Italy have a strong squad but not as spectacular as many of the other likely participants. That said, they unexpected beat a superlative Germany side in the semi-finals of Euro 2012, and should never be written off.

Netherlands

Arguably the greatest football nation to never have won a World Cup, Netherlands are an unpredictable entity when it comes to major tournaments. Three times the Dutch have been runners up, including losing to Spain in the final in South Africa at the last time of asking in 2010.

The Oranje have won seven of their eight qualifying games, drawing against Estonia in their only dropped points of the campaign. A 2-0 win over Albania was good enough to seal qualification, with Romania, Turkey and Hungary all overcome.

The Netherlands squad is going through something of a restructure, with the established older players no longer as prominent in the side. Robin van Persie is the main man in attack, and the Dutch side relies on the Manchester United man to get goals. Wesley Sneijder is the other big name in the side.

There are a host of younger players coming through the Eredivisie that are being given a chance, with Louis van Gaal selecting players on form. The players at Van Gaal’s disposal may well not have as many big names amongst them, but this may well be a good thing for squad unity.

Netherlands certainly have the ability to threaten in Brazil, but in the recent past the national side has been subject of factions at major tournaments. If Van Gaal can forge a strong bond between the players they should make the latter stages. Whether they are good enough to beat the likes of Germany or Spain remains to be seen.

image: © ell-r-brown

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