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Italy: The reigning champions and four-time FIFA World Cup™ winners are heading into their 17th finals campaign. Although their squad has changed since their 2006 triumph in Berlin, I Nazionale still depend on stalwarts such as keeper Gianluigi Buffon and veteran centre-back Fabio Cannavaro, as well as Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso in midfield and Alberto Gilardino in attack. The Italians will be hoping that they can live up to their billing in South Africa and win consecutive world crowns for the second time in their history.
Paraguay: The Albirroja put in their best-ever qualifying performance to secure a fourth consecutive finals berth, collecting ten wins, three draws and five defeats on the road to South Africa. Paraguay, who are currently 30th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, failed to survive the group stage in 2006, finishing third in behind England and Sweden. The mainstays of Gerardo Martino's side are forwards Salvador Cabanas, Nelson Valdez and Roque Santa Cruz and goalkeeper Justo Villar. They have already crossed paths with Italy once before at the FIFA World Cup finals, slipping to a 2-0 first-round defeat back in 1950.
Slovakia: Currently ranked 34th in the world, Slovakia finished as surprise winners of a tricky European qualifying group containing Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland and Northern Ireland. Although they are competing in their first finals as an independent nation, they contested eight previous finals campaigns under the banner of the former Czechoslovakia, runners-up in 1934 and 1962. Vladimir Weiss, who has been at the helm since June 2008, has fashioned a tight unit and relies on seasoned stars such as attacking midfielder Marek Mintal and centre-forward Robert Vittek. The vast majority of the squad ply their trade on foreign soil, particularly in the Bundesliga.
New Zealand: The All Whites may have breezed through the Oceania qualifying competition but they will be regarded as the minnows of this tournament. To book their first finals appearance since 1982, they showed commendable mettle in a two-legged play-off against Bahrain, drawing 0-0 away and edging the return 1-0. A disciplined unit with a direct, physical game, New Zealand can go the distance against any side, as Italy found out when scraping a 4-3 friendly victory over the Kiwis earlier this year.
The players to watch
Gianluigi Buffon (ITA), Fabio Cannavaro (ITA), Gennaro Gattuso (ITA), Andrea Pirlo (ITA), Robert Vitteck (SVK), Justo Villar (PAR), Salvador Cabanas (PAR), Ryan Nelsen (NZL)
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