Duisburg, Germany Italy's coach is optimistic about what's ahead, even if others are not.
Marcello Lippi expects the Azzurri to live up to its full potential against Ukraine in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. The Italians begin today's game as big favorites - and with lingering criticism over their failure to dominate any of their four opponents so far.
"I think we're ready to offer some good soccer," Lippi said Thursday.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is delighted to be in the last eight of Germany 2006 and anything else is a bonus.
Coach Oleh Blokhin, a fixture of the Soviet Union's teams of the 1970s, said Ukraine has reached the point where "we already achieved our main goal and all other games are a plus."
And striker Andriy Shevchenko, a well-known face to Italian defenders after seven seasons with AC Milan, says Ukraine will be relying on passion. "We will need to play with enough heart to make up for any technical shortcomings," Shevchenko said.
Lippi says playmaker Francesco Totti is rediscovering his dangerous form.
"The team has steadily improved, especially Totti. His penalty kick the other night was really, really important - also psychologically. It's really energized him," Lippi said.
Totti is still recovering his form after leg surgery. He struggled in Italy's opening three games and was relegated to the bench at the start of the 1-0 win over Australia on Monday. He came on late in the second half and scored a last-minute penalty, showing an ice-cool temperament to crush Australia's dreams.
Lippi didn't start Totti against Australia because he felt the forward was tired after playing a full 90 minutes against the Czech Republic in Italy's previous game.
"He's fully recuperated now," Lippi said, indicating Totti will return to the starting lineup against Ukraine.
While Totti's form is returning, forward Luca Toni is still looking to break out.
Toni's 31 goals for Fiorentina this season led Europe's four big leagues, but he's failed to find the net in Italy's first four games, hitting the crossbar in the opening 2-0 win over Ghana and missing a header by only a few inches in the opening minutes against Australia.
"Another player who I see a lot of improvement from is Toni," Lippi said.
Toni has yet to play a full 90 minutes in Germany.
"I'm trying to keep the squad balanced in terms of fitness. It's essential when you play games every three or four days," Lippi said. "We have only four players that have played every minute of all four games."
The Azzurri are not at full strength. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi will serve the third game in a four-match ban for an elbow to the face of U.S. forward Brian McBride. Defender Alessandro Nesta is out with a right thigh injury, and Nesta's replacement, Marco Materazzi, is suspended.
That leaves inexperienced Andrea Barzagli to join captain Fabio Cannavaro in central defense with the job of containing Shevchenko.