Just two years ago, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile were playing together at Pescara Calcio in Serie B. Having helped the Delfini win promotion, they went their separate ways, but the trio have been reunited as Italy head to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
After his Pescara adventure, the 23-year-old Insigne went back to SSC Napoli, helping the Partenopei lift this season's Coppa Italia. He scored twice in the final against ACF Fiorentina, and also found the net in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
Verratti, meanwhile, has landed two Ligue 1 titles since moving to Paris Saint-Germain, the 21-year-old having made 17 appearances in the UEFA Champions League, a competition Immobile is eager to experience with his new team Borussia Dortmund.
Top scorer in Serie A this term with 22 goals for Torino FC, Immobile, 24, registered 28 when Pescara won Serie B in 2011/12. Understandably, his coach from that time, Zdeněk Zeman, remembers him, Verratti and Insigne fondly. "Lò, Marcolino and Ciruzzo all going to Brazil – I'm very happy for my boys," Zeman told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I'll be cheering for them.
"They are not just three good footballers, they are also three good guys," the 67-year-old Czech added. "Serious, generous, always ready to help. In one-on-one situations and in finding space to shoot, Insigne is among the best I have had. Immobile is generous – he leaves everything on the field and always fights without fear. He will grow in Germany, he has broad shoulders and the desire to make it. For Verratti, I don't need many words: he can play football, simple as that."
They know that well in Paris, where Verratti has formed part of a highly praised midfield trio alongside Blaise Matuidi and fellow Italian international Thiago Motta, showing great versatility throughout the campaign. 'Il Gufetto' – the little owl – now seems to be more to Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli than a long-term replacement for the 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo. "The coach knows what's best for the team," said Verratti. "But being able to play in a number of positions is certainly in my favour.
"Midfielders nowadays have to be very skilful," he continued. "In recent months I've played as a regista [deep-lying playmaker] – but with Pirlo in the squad, I think it might be impossible for me [to do that in Brazil]. Regardless of where I play, representing my country at the World Cup is going to be a great source of pride."
Insigne shares that enthusiasm. "I will give my all," the 1.63m-tall forward said. "I am excited but also very determined. I always hoped for this call-up. My dream as a child was to play for Napoli, the team of my heart. Now my other dream of playing for the national team at the World Cup has also come true."
Doing so with two valued friends alongside him can only increase the pleasure. Insigne and Verratti both attended Immobile's wedding on 24 May, the striker having been forced to postpone his nuptuals in June 2013 when, together with his former team-mates at Pescara, he helped Italy reach the final of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel.
"We started together in Serie B and two years on we are playing at a World Cup together," Verratti said. "It's a great story. We are close friends and I just hope we can repeat the great things we have done together in the past. We lost the final [against Spain] with the U21s last summer, so our dream now is to win the World Cup."
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