Italy Camp Focus – The first test of a new era

A new era for the Italian national team has begun as Cesare Prandelli has picked his first squad for the friendly match against the Ivory Coast on Tuesday at Upton Park. The two central figures that have long been left out of the Nazionale by previous Coach Marcello Lippi will now take centre stage in the new Azzurri set-up. The naturally gifted Antonio Cassano and young phenomenon Mario Balotelli will line up in the Azzurri attack as they finally have their long-awaited chance to showcase their abilities. Only time will tell whether their exclusion from the World Cup 2010 squad was fully justified or whether they will be the talent that will lead the footballing crazed nation back to the summit of international football.

Whilst many applaud Prandelli’s new open door policy as he attempts to build a team around his volatile prodigies, they are also equally bemused by his decision to call up the Brazilian Amauri, who has suffered long goal scoring droughts during his time at Juventus, barely managing to contribute a decent number of goals last season. Whilst his performance against Shamrock Rovers in Juve’s Europa League fixture demonstrates a slight improvement, his unfailing ability to perform inconsistently makes him a gamble for the Azzurri and perhaps one that should not yet be taken. Moreover, it has been alluded that Prandelli will opt to field him as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, meaning he will be the goal-poacher which many feel is not his true position in a squad. Whilst when in form Amauri is capable of being the all-round perfect striker, he is much better suited to playing as a seconda punta. Juventus have perhaps failed in recognising his true role on the pitch and it seems Prandelli will follow suit. Even Luigi Del Neri has remarked how Amauri is not known to be served in open spaces but by having the ball delivered at his feet. As a lone striker he will cope, as a player who works more in the mould of a wingman, he could be a valuable asset. One needs only to view the beautiful assist he provided Fabrizio Miccoli against Fiorentina during his time at Palermo.

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However, the fact that Prandelli did not call up his star striker at Fiorentina, Alberto Gilardino, or Sampdoria’s Giampaolo Pazzini, who has combined beautifully with Cassano at club level to achieve unimaginable success, seemingly confirms that this friendly fixture is nothing more than an opportunity for the Coach to see whether those players that have been called upon deserve the chance to form part of la Nazionale. According to recent reports, Prandelli confirmed that he did not feel it necessary to call up the aforementioned strikers as he is already blindingly aware of their talent and abilities, and thus does not need to test them. That perhaps explains why three of Lippi’s rejects have been chosen to lead the attack.

Prandelli has made it obvious that he will invest in the youth of Italy and has also tellingly dropped the many stars, or rather flops, of Lippi’s World Cup squad. It is time to bid adieu to the men who brought Italy its fourth World Cup and greet the many new talents that the Peninsula has been churning out. Luckily for the national team, Juventus have also adopted a new philosophy of recruiting ‘young’ and ‘Italian’ players and as such have provided the Azzurri Coach with practically his entire back line, barring their previous reject and current Stuttgart defender, Cristian Molinaro – who, it has to be said, is a rather bizarre inclusion. Molinaro was originally dropped from the squad by Ciro Ferrara, who felt the player was not suited to playing a diamond formation as the full-back could barely offer a pass to the starving attack. It remains to be seen whether the Bundesliga has converted the average defender into a true full-back or whether Balotelli will have a lot of running to do on the left.

Apart from those players that will take their place in the starting line-up, it will be nice to greet the debutants who have finally made the cut like Andrea Lazzari and Davide Astori, the Cagliari duo who are reaping the rewards of an excellent season under the tutelage of Massimiliano Allegri and the club’s focus on home grown talent. Their inclusion proves that every player will be looked at and not merely those who play for the top three clubs.

Considering the talent that will be fielded on Tuesday, this should be a match that the Azzurri win in hope of regaining some self esteem. Their opponents will be missing their star man Didier Drogba and will also be dealing with staff changes. However, that does not mean that one should underestimate the awesome talent of the Africans, who still boast a team filled with stars such as Yaya Touré and Salomon Kalou.

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