Italy hope Montolivo is the man to fill Pirlo's boots after injury

Riccardo Montolivo faces a stiff challenge at his first World Cup: to replace the outstanding Andrea Pirlo at the heart of Italy's midfield. Pirlo injured his left calf during the friendly defeat to Mexico last week and could now miss the entire group stages.

Montolivo excelled in his position in front of Fiorentina's defence this season, directing the midfield and forwards – exactly what Pirlo has been doing for years with Italy and Milan. "That's the ideal position for me, where I can really take best advantage of my characteristics," Montolivo said yesterday. "I can play in the middle of a three-man midfield as well, but I'm best in front of the defence."

He played well in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in a warm-up game last weekend and could start Italy's opener with Paraguay on Monday. Daniele de Rossi and Angelo Palombo are also options to replace Pirlo.

"There are two or three players who can replace him and we all have different characteristics," Montolivo added. "The coach will evaluate and make the decision."

Montolivo had a difficult time adapting to the international game at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, after which he was dropped by coach Marcello Lippi. "After the Confederations Cup, [Lippi] called me. It was about the same time I changed positions with Fiorentina and he said he would be observing me and I gave my all to get this jersey back," Montolivo said. "I'm really motivated. This could be the most important moment of my career."

Montolivo was at the heart of the action when Fiorentina beat Liverpool twice in the group phase of this season's Champions League, dominating a contest with one of his idols – Steven Gerrard.

"The experience in the Champions League was key," Montolivo said. "It's really important to go up against players at that level and measure yourself against the top clubs."

As one of the younger members of Italy's relatively old team, Montolivo can also look forward to playing under future national team coach Cesare Prandelli, who recently agreed to a four-year deal to replace Lippi after the World Cup. Prandelli coached Fiorentina for the last five years and has a special bond with Montolivo.

It has all been quite a turnaround for a player that risked not making Italy's final 23-man squad little more than a week ago. "I was in doubt, but I knew it and I worked as hard as I could to prove myself," Montolivo said.

Two weeks of training in the Italian Alps has benefited Italy as they prepare for matches at high altitude. Team physician Enrico Castellacci said yesterday that compared with last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa – in which Italy failed to make it past the group phase – players are no longer having trouble catching their breath or sleeping through the night.

Italy have been preparing for the World Cup in Sestriere – at an altitude of 2,035m (6,670ft) – and sluggish performances in friendlies against Mexico and Switzerland last week prompted fears they'd overdone altitude training. "You can't say that there's a Sestriere effect," Castellacci said. "We've adapted to the altitude."

Italy's training base in Irene – near Pretoria – is at about 1,400m (4,600ft). "We've noticed that the players are not having as tough a time recuperating after brief sprints and runs," Castellacci said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk