Italy coach Marcello Lippi has already won the World Cup. Now he's chasing history.
Lippi is attempting to become only the second coach to win two consecutive World Cups, and the first manager to pull off the feat in the postwar period.
Vittorio Pozzo led Italy to back-to-back titles in 1934 and 1938, and no coach has achieved the feat since. Brazil won in 1958 and 1962, but with different coaches _ Vicente Feola and Aymore Moreira.
"History shows how difficult how it is," Lippi said at a recent meeting with foreign media. "If in (80) years only twice have countries won two in a row, evidently it's not so easy. That's human nature. The defending champion always has a big target on its back."
Lippi resigned after guiding Italy to the 2006 title, took a two-year hiatus, then returned and replaced Roberto Donadoni after the 2008 European Championship, which Italy exited with a quarterfinal loss to Spain.
Lippi spent his time away from the game collecting various awards and holding public talks about his successes.
"I've talked at 29 universities in Italy about sports management, building a team, using human resources, leadership, motivation and things like that," he said. "I also visited many companies, because very often you can compare a football club to any work group. There are a ton of analogies with running a football club. I do it with pleasure and I really like it."
Now Lippi faces the task of keeping afloat an aging team still filled with veterans from 2006. But he's not under the personal pressure he faced four years ago, when his son was involved in the Italian match-fixing scandal, which hastened his departure from the national team.
Still, there's no relaxing.
"I've always said that you can never be calm. I am serene though. I'm absolutely in synch with the team that I've been working with for two years _ or four if we want to consider the previous two years," he said. "We're all aware that it's going to be very, very tough."
Italy drew all three of its friendlies after qualifying, a sharp contrast from four years ago when the Azzurri produced emphatic wins over the Netherlands and Germany in the World Cup warmups.
"It's not important how you perform in March. It's June that counts," Lippi said, recalling that under his reign Italy has lost only one World Cup qualifier _ to Slovenia in October 2004 in his fourth game in charge.
The silver-haired Lippi carries himself with the air of someone who has already won.
After playing seven seasons in Italy's top league with Sampdoria in the 1970s, Lippi began coaching the Genoa club's youth squad in 1982, and soon after won a youth tournament in Marseille.
In 1985, he got his start in the lowest level of Italian professional football, directing Pontedra in Serie C2. His Serie A debut came with Cesena in 1989, and stints with Lucchese, Atalanta and Napoli in 1993-94 followed.
In 1994, Lippi landed at Juventus and proceeded to win five Serie A titles, one Italian Cup, four Italian Supercups, the 1996 European Champions League, and the European Supercup and Intercontinental Cup.
He had a brief, unsuccessful stint at Inter Milan from 1999-2001, then returned to Juventus and guided the Bianconeri back to the Champions League final, only to lose to AC Milan in 2003.
After Italy was eliminated from the 2004 European Championship, Lippi was called in to replace Giovanni Trapattoni. Like four years ago, Lippi's future remains an open question. He won't commit to his plans beyond the World Cup.
"I'm not interested talking about the future," he said. "Right now we've got to think solely about the World Cup."