ROME, June 23 – Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro has hit back at recent criticism of the reigning World Cup champions, which has focused on the team's largely veteran status in the wake of their Confederations Cup flop.
Marcello Lippi’s side beat the United States 3-1 but were then shocked by Egypt 1-0 before Brazil hammered the final nail in their coffin with a comprehensive 3-0 thrashing on Sunday.
Italy missed the semi-final stages on goal difference, and have been widely labelled as underachievers.
In Italy that criticism has mainly focused on the fact that seven of Lippi’s starting 11 against Brazil were aged 30 or more, with captain Cannavaro almost 36.
However central defender Cannavaro said it was time for the criticism to stop.
"Let’s bring an end to this theory that we’re all too old," said Cannavaro, according to the Ansa news agency.
"I’m getting tired of it. Personally, I’m available to play and it’s up to (coach, Marcello) Lippi to decide."
Lippi has been criticised at home for persisting with his "old men" rather than handing a chance to the plethora of young talent he has on hand, but he defended his tactics.
"You speak so much about young people – what young people," said the 61-year-old, back in charge since Roberto Donadoni’s departure after Euro 2008.
"You don’t throw youngesters into these matches, you have to put them in gradually.
"We have youngsters but they need to mature. The best players in Italy you have seen right here on the pitch."
Media reports suggest several players in their 30s risk losing their places in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, for which Italy have still to qualify, with defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso, and striker Luca Toni among the names cited.
But Cannavaro, for one, isn’t worried.
"I’m not just here because I happen to have lifted the World Cup trophy (in 2006)," said Cannavaro, who has recently signed for Juventus from Real Madrid.
"Everyone remembers the seven matches we played at the World Cup, and, compared to those, apparently I’m still playing badly.
"But like Lippi, I think that the players who are in the team are the best players that Italy can offer right now."
Italy sit top of qualifying Group 8 but Ireland are keeping the World Cup winners in their sights. Only the group winners qualify automatically for the tournament, with the second place finishers proceeding to the play-offs.