Qualified Team Focus - Italy: Azzurri believe in first top four finish since 1978
MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.
After Spain and Australia, France, Slovenia, Lithuania and Greece, next up is the number 10 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, 2004 Olympic silver medallists and two-time FIBA EuroBasket champions Italy.
AZZURRI ARE HEADING TO THE WORLD CUP 🇮🇹🤌#FIBAWC x #WinForItalia pic.twitter.com/vWGiSafxtb— FIBA Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) November 14, 2022
How did they qualify
Italy fans certainly had plenty of drama during their team's qualification campaign. Despite that the Azzurri booked their ticket to the World Cup with one window to spare. The team played two overtime games, four of their Qualifiers were decided by four points or fewer and the team went through a coaching change to a former playing hero.
The Italians under Meo Sacchetti struggled right out of the gate, losing at Russia 92-78 and managing only a 75-73 win over Netherlands at home in the first window. Things didn't get much better in February 2022, losing to Iceland on the road in double-overtime 107-105 - though Nico Mannion collected 23 points and 7 assists.
Gianmarco Pozzecco (third from right) at 2004 Olympics
The federation had seen enough and in June 2022 hired Gianmarco Pozzecco as its new head coach. The 49-year-old had helped Italy win silver at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. And the Italians were back on track, winning by 11 points in Netherlands the following month as the only game since Russia had been expelled for its invasion of Ukraine.
Pozzecco welcomed the team's top stars back for the August 2022 window and beat Ukraine and Georgia to put themselves in a good spot for the World Cup - with Simone Fontecchio scoring 20 and 21 points, respectively. The Azzurri then went to FIBA EuroBasket 2022 and shocked Serbia to reach the Quarter-Finals, where they took France to overtime but came up just short of the Semi-Finals.
Nearly 10,000 fans flocked to Pesaro to watch the Italians take on freshly-crowned EuroBasket champions Spain in the November 2022 window. The game was thrilling - going to overtime - but Italy ended up losing 88-84. But Pozzecco's men finished the qualification deal three days later with another thriller, going back and forth throughout for an 85-84 win at Georgia to send Italy to the World Cup.
Best result at the World Cup
Italy will be making their 10th appearance at the World Cup and the first back-to-back showings since 1986 and 1990. Italy have claimed two silver medals at the Olympics (1980, 2004) and twice won the FIBA EuroBasket title (1983, 1999).
But the Azzurri have only finished in the top four of the World Cup twice - in 1970 and 1978, taking fourth place in the final group standings both times. And the country’s only top eight showing since then came in 1998 when they lost to United States in the Quarter-Finals.
Dino Meneghin at 1970 World Cup
Last World Cup appearances
After reaching the Quarter-Finals in 1998, Italy missed the 2002 World Cup and returned to the global stage in 2006, where they lost only to the United States in the group stage and then fell to Lithuania in the Round of 16. The Italians failed to reach the next two World Cups but reached China 2019. There they took second place in the first group stage only to lose to Spain and Puerto Rico in the second group to miss out on the Quarter-Finals.
Players to watch
Italy are getting deeper and deeper at the top level and also bringing in young talent to give the team a good mix of young and old. The team will be led by Simone Fontecchio as well as veterans like Nicolo Melli, Stefano Tonut, Luigi Datome, Achille Polonara, Amedeo Della Valle, Michele Vitali and Giampaolo Ricci.
But Pozzecco also has a group of emerging leaders in Marco Spissu, Nico Mannion and Alessandro Pajola. And there are elite talents on the verge of contributing such as Gabriele Procida and Matteo Spagnolo.
Two big question marks are Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL in August 2022 but could be back to top form for the World Cup; and the 2022 NBA number one overall pick Paolo Banchero, who has said he hopes to play for the Azzurri at the World Cup.