Cesare Prandelli warns Italy might not have the strongest squad, “but we can beat the best,” while the World Cup is Mario Balotelli’s chance.
The Azzurri Coach sat down with La Gazzetta dello Sport to discuss the tournament in Brazil and his future, as he has still not confirmed if he’ll step down.
“In Italy there are 60 million tacticians and if I get the line-up wrong, they will all pile up on me. If I get it right, they’ll all jump on the bandwagon. I’ll accept that, even if it might get a bit crowded,” smiled Prandelli.
Italy have a tough World Cup group against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
“We’re not afraid and the absolute minimum objective is qualification, possibly top of the group. We played a marvellous game against England at Euro 2012, but still needed penalties to go through.
“We struggled in the second half of the Confederations Cup 2013 match with Uruguay, but still won on penalties to clinch third place. Nobody talks about Costa Rica, but I’ve been studying them and I’m impressed with their sharpness and technique.
“The World Cup has already begun. These months that separate us from the kick-off are fundamental, as we’re laying the foundations now.
“Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain are the favourites, while there are six or seven teams behind them, including Italy. Let’s rule out the idea of being the best, the most handsome and the most talented. We’re not. But we can beat the best, as long as we behave in a certain way with team spirit.”
When it comes to team spirit, people will always bring up Balotelli’s track record and his new partnership with Giuseppe Rossi.
“Rossi settles in well with anyone, as he is good at a football dialogue with his teammates. Balotelli played his best games with a support strike, as the experiment of two centre-forwards didn’t work.
“Balotelli must be stronger than any provocation, as you see the really great players at the World Cup. Mario will have the precious opportunity to prove what he is, which is a champion.”
Prandelli confirmed he is also keeping an eye on other young talents for the 23-man squad going to Brazil.
“I am observing five or six young players, but it’s unthinkable that they could all be first choices at a World Cup. Mattia De Sciglio is one of the most interesting, as he has done very well with us and at Milan.
“The most important thing will be in April when I’ll call 33-35 players in for physical tests. From that group we’ll pick the final 23 for Brazil, because this World Cup is going to take up a lot of energy. Up until April everyone is open to be picked, including the ‘old guard’ like Francesco Totti, Luca Toni, Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano.”
Prandelli’s contract lasts only up to the end of the World Cup and he has repeatedly hinted he’d like a return to club football.
“In March I will meet with FIGC President Giancarlo Abete and we’ll talk about what will happen. I have said that four years for a national team Coach is the right amount and I confirm that, but I haven’t decided anything. I have not received any phone calls or proposals for anything else either.”
The Azzurri boss also revealed he voted for Andrea Pirlo in the Ballon d’Or rankings ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi because “he can read every situation.”
He then added that he’s ready to “put my hand in the fire” to protest Gennaro Gattuso’s innocence in match-fixing allegations.