Cesare Prandelli must be cursing his luck. Only months from the start of Euro 2012 he has an unwelcome headache up front following setbacks to key players. The shock of Antonio Cassano’s heart problem as well as the serious knee injury suffered by Giuseppe Rossi is not what Prandelli needed but does present an opportunity for those waiting in the wings.
With the possible scenario of Cassano and Rossi not making it to Poland and Ukraine, or at least being heavily underdone match-fitness wise, it dents Italy’s chances just as the duo were building a promising partnership. Prandelli liked the fact the pair “give the opposition defence no reference points”.
Players such as Mario Balotelli, Sebastian Giovinco and Giampaolo Pazzini are seemingly in line for a spot with or without the stricken pair. Starting with friendlies against Poland and Uruguay in the upcoming week, the trio will have a chance to cement a starting role. If Prandelli wants to continue offering no reference points, Balotelli and Giovinco would be suitable candidates.
Balotelli has technical ability in abundance with a scoring touch and can either come deep to receive or get on the end of chances. His temperament could stop him becoming a leader. Giovinco is very much a creator, a seconda punta, who like Rossi and Cassano is tricky in and around the penalty area. Pazzini, a prima punta, does not create much but knows where the goal is; even if his radar has mostly been off in his Azzurri career.
Other players looking to show they deserve a place in the final 23 are Pablo Osvaldo and Alessandro Matri. The Argentine-born Roma striker has five goals to his name this season. Prandelli knows his capabilities and has shown faith already with his decision to call him up during the last round of matches, but Osvaldo has not yet shown scoring consistency in his career.
What he and Matri both add is the ability to play in either a forward pair or centrally in a trident (which Pazzini struggled to do at Fiorentina). This is crucial with the addition of Simone Pepe to the latest squad, indicating Prandelli may look to return to that system as a backup, after noting in 2010 there are not enough pure wingers in Italy for the formation. Matri combined with Alessandro Del Piero last campaign and has been used in a 4-3-3 this season, scoring freely in each.
The last category homes the hopefuls, those pressing for a chance. Antonio Di Natale lets his goals do the talking and with an incredible 77 in his last 92 Serie A appearances, he must surely be considered, despite his advancing years. He is another who can float between the lines, as is Fabio Quagliarella. The Juventus striker was on fire before his knee injury but must secure regular game-time in Turin before thinking of a Nazionale recall. Alberto Gilardino has dropped in the pecking order but is well known to Prandelli and is certainly a possibility thanks to the experience he offers.
While glad to see Cassano recovering and claiming he will wait for both him and Rossi, Prandelli must be ruing their respective problems. It is up to the others to force his hand with stellar performances between now and June.