Versatile Pepe attacks Italy's critics

IRENE, South Africa Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:22pm IST

Italy's Simone Pepe poses for the official photograph during a training session in Sestriere, an alpine village in northwest Italy, May 26, 2010. REUTERS/ANSA/Pool/Files

Italy's Simone Pepe poses for the official photograph during a training session in Sestriere, an alpine village in northwest Italy, May 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/ANSA/Pool/Files

IRENE, South Africa (Reuters) - Italy's Mr. Versatile Simone Pepe has taken a break from playing midfield, wing and attack to warn doubters the holders are up for the fight at this World Cup.

Pundits in Italy believe Marcello Lippi's team, dull in qualifying and with several players out-of-form, have no chance of successfully defending their title in South Africa.

But Pepe, who has just joined Juventus from Udinese, points out the Azzurri were not well-backed to win in 2006 either.

"Italy are never favourites. There is a lot of scepticism from the journalists but not from the group with Lippi," Pepe boldly declared to Reuters.

"We are convinced we can do well and we will show it."

Italy open their Group F campaign against Paraguay in Cape Town on Monday before facing New Zealand and Slovakia.

Coach Lippi said versatility was his overriding concern when picking his World Cup squad and Pepe fits the bill perfectly.

The 26-year-old can play anywhere apart from defence and in goal, but his infectious enthusiasm means he would probably don some gloves if asked.

The world champions have tinkered with various systems in the build-up with a 4-2-3-1 set to be employed against Paraguay.

Pepe had looked an unlikely starter for Monday but played on the right from the beginning in Friday's final friendly against a South African league representative side and scored twice in the 6-0 win.

While pushing for a start, he also knows he is one of the first substitutes Lippi turns to given his flexibility.

"This is important, I am versatile as I can play in midfield on the wing or in attack, it's good for me but it's up to the boss," Pepe said, his head bobbing up and down with excitement before his first major championship.

Udinese survived relegation from the Italian top-flight last season largely because of Pepe and team mate Antonio Di Natale, who just could not stop scoring.

The 32-year-old striker was not a regular Italy starter during qualification but recent training sessions suggest Serie A's top scorer last term has forced his way into Lippi's team.

Little talked about in the wider footballing world, Pepe thinks Di Natale can fire Italy towards further success.

"He has had a fantastic season, he's scored 29 goals so even the numbers speak for him," the shaven-headed Pepe said.

"Let's hope that he continues like this during the World Cup because it would be great for Italy."

(Editing by Nigel Hunt)

Cricket

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Ten Years On

Ten Years On

10 years on, tsunami warning stumbles at the "last mile".  Full Article 

Exit Polls

Exit Polls

BJP unlikely to form Jammu & Kashmir govt - polls.  Full Article 

Forceful Conversions

Forceful Conversions

BJP distances itself from religious conversions.  Full Article 

Hopeful Dhoni

Hopeful Dhoni

India's new vintage nearly ready, says Dhoni.  Full Article 

Photo

Fund Raising

Flipkart raises $700 million in fresh funding.   Full Article 

Reforms Push

Reforms Push

Modi may order insurance, coal reforms if vote delayed - officials.  Full Article 

Ali Hospitalized

Ali Hospitalized

Boxing great Muhammad Ali hospitalized with pneumonia.  Full Article 

Going International

Going International

Bollywood’s Priyanka Chopra sets sights on American TV.  Full Article 

India This Week

India This Week

Some of our best photos from this week.   Full Coverage 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device   Full Coverage