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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea