Reuters , Wednesday 6 Jun 2012

Italy's national soccer team (Photo: Reuters)


If Mario Balotelli was more mature, Antonio Cassano had not suffered a minor heart problem last November and Giuseppe Rossi was fit, Italy might be among the Euro 2012 title contenders.

But although both Balotelli and Cassano have made the squad, they are likely to struggle for goals despite coach Cesare Prandelli's bold bid to rebuild the team and restore much-needed credibility.

Furthermore, the fact that Domenico Criscito had to leave the squad after being investigated in a match-fixing probe has left the stench of controversy hanging over Italy once again.

For all his promise and flashes of brilliance, Balotelli is still not considered by Prandelli to be ready to lead Italy's attack given a raft of misdemeanours.

The 21-year-old has won only seven caps so far, scoring one goal, and was given clear warning in February that he risked being left out if his behaviour did not improve.

"The players know it, acting like this they risk missing the Euros," Prandelli said after another Balotelli red card for Manchester City. "You can't be in the national squad if you risk leaving the team with 10 men."

Rossi, meanwhile, suffered damage to the ligaments in his right knee at the end of October and a reoccurrence means he is out of the Euros.

Thankfully Cassano is fit after returning to the AC Milan bench after five months out.

The Bari-born forward's career has been marked by tantrums and personality clashes and he was overlooked by Prandelli's predecessor Marcello Lippi.

Prandelli, however, gave him a vote of confidence and he started all the qualifiers, generally partnering Rossi and less frequently Sebastian Giovinco or Giampaolo Pazzini, top scoring with six goals.

A more mature Cassano was also key to Milan's Serie A title success last season. But just when his career seemed to be back on track, he was diagnosed with a minor heart problem and underwent surgery.

A look at the scoring records of the other strikers shows the extent of his Prandelli's problem.

Elsewhere, the team bears a surprising similarity to the one that flopped as holders at the 2010 World Cup, apart from the absences of Gianluca Zambrotta, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alberto Gilardino and the retired Fabio Cannavaro.

Gianluigi Buffon, 34, remains the favoured choice in goal, an excellent season at Juventus having reinforced his status.

Andrea Pirlo, who missed the first two games in South Africa through injury, has kept his place at the heart of midfield alongside a less tempestuous Daniele De Rossi and the gifted Riccardo Montolivo.

Italy emerged unbeaten through the qualifiers, booking their place with two matches to spare, as they made light work of Serbia, Slovenia, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Estonia.

Their friendly results, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag, an impressive 2-1 win over Spain comparing favourably with home defeats by Uruguay and the United States.

Prandelli has certainly put Italy back on track after miserable campaigns at Euro 2008 and in South Africa and many will be grateful that he has kicked out the histrionics.

Whether Italy can add to their single Euro title, from 1968, remains a different matter entirely.


Goalkeepers: 1-Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), 14-Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), 12-Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St Germain)

Defenders: 7-Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), 6-Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), 15-Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), 19-Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), 3-Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), 2-Christian Maggio (Napoli), 4-Angelo Ogbonna (Torino)

Midfielders: 16-Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), 22-Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), 13-Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), 8-Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), 18-Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), 5-Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain), 23-Antonio Nocerino (AC Milan), 21-Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)

Forwards: 9-Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), 17-Fabio Borini (AS Roma), 10-Antonio Cassano (AC Milan), 11-Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), 20-Sebastian Giovinco (Parma)


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