Rumour is rife that Cesare Prandelli will extend his contract as Italy Coach up to 2018 and develop his role further to include a greater focus on youth progression. The former Fiorentina boss is certainly not afraid to give call-ups to young and uncapped players and Italy boast an array of gifted prodigies who are clamouring to make their way to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup.
However, with such competition for a place on the plane to South America, which of the Azzurri’s most promising youngsters should make the cut?
Regardless of how the Italy World Cup Odds are shaping up, perhaps Prandelli’s most challenging selection headache will come in attack, with no less than six Italians currently occupying the top 10 positions in the Capocannoniere charts, with Giuseppe Rossi’s knee injury in particular opening the door for potential prospects.
Torino’s Ciro Immobile is tied with Gonzalo Higuain and Luca Toni on 13 goals, and his tally is all the more impressive when you consider that none of those came from the penalty spot.
The 24-year-old’s burgeoning partnership with Alessio Cerci has been one of the main factors behind his incredible form this term – the pair have scored nearly 62 per cent of the Granata’s goals – however, it remains to be seen if Immobile can replicate this level of performance for his country, when his more established teammate might not be present. Immobile is in line to make his debut for La Nazionale in their friendly against Spain on Wednesday at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, and this could be a vital test of his credentials.
Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli is another young forward hoping to make an impact in the match, and while he has been much less prolific this year, his guile and unpredictability, as well as his overall contribution to the team could make him the wildcard of the Italian frontline.
Used to playing on the left side of a front three, the Neapolitan is still only 22, and is slowly establishing himself in a competitive Partenopei side under Rafa Benitez. He would be a very useful option from the bench if nothing else.
An even younger attacker making waves for his exploits in Serie A this season is Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo, who alone has scored 48 per cent of the Neroverdi’s goals, and became the second youngest player to score four goals in a single game in their famous 4-3 victory over Milan.
Only 19 years of age, the Calabrian is somewhat of a raw talent, and despite having already scored 12 times in the 2013-14 term, this summer’s World Cup could be too soon for him, unless he can manage to convince Prandelli with his displays in the second half of the campaign. His elbow aimed at Cristian Molinaro could be a costly delay to his international development, as he has been dropped from the Under-21 squad.
Then there is Roma’s Mattia Destro, who has been drafted into the squad in the absence of Mario Balotelli – this is largely thanks to him having scored six goals since returning from an eight-month spell on the side-lines in early December, and although it is unlikely that he would usurp his Milan counterpart in the starting XI, he provides an excellent alternative.
One player who should almost certainly make it on the plane is Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, who has long been singled out as the heir to Andrea Pirlo in the Italy set-up – he has come on leaps and bounds at the Parc des Princes, and would go to Brazil as the understudy to ‘L’Architetto’.
It’s very difficult to envision an Azzurri line-up which doesn’t include veteran custodian Gianluigi Buffon, but he will not be around forever, and it looks likely that Mattia Perin will be handed a chance to take his place in the coming years. The Genoa ‘keeper has been included in Prandelli’s latest squad as a reward for good form, but may not be Brazil-bound as his more experienced compatriots Federico Marchetti and Salvatore Sirigu may still be preferred.
Meanwhile, the inclusion of two other 21-year-olds - Rossoneri duo Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy - could be in doubt, with both enduring injury-troubled seasons. De Sciglio has only featured 11 times for the Diavolo this term, while El Shaarawy has suffered a severe dip in form and a long spell in the treatment room since his blistering start to 2012-13, during which he scored 14 goals.