The Italian national side can look towards the European Championship with a reasonable degree of optimism, but as Cesare Prandelli whittles down his preliminary 32-man squad selection to his final 23, concern – from outside the camp at least – surrounds his attacking options.
In a fair and just world, Giuseppe Rossi would be leading the Azzurri assault on Europe this summer. Just 12 months ago, off the back of a scintillating season in Spain, his star was firmly in the ascendency, and set to shine brightly in Poland and the Ukraine. Unfortunately, bad luck and injury reared their ugly heads, and Rossi will be ruled out until next March after damaging the same knee ligaments twice within the space of a season.
A measure of ill-fortune also struck Antonio Cassano, Rossi’s preferred striking partner in Prandelli’s 4-3-1-2 plans. In November last year, the Milanista suffered an ischaemic stroke that required minor heart surgery. Returning to action in April, he’s hardly had the ideal preparation for a major tournament like this one.
Elsewhere, Antonio Di Natale once again finished the campaign as the top Italian marksman on the peninsula, hauling Udinese into the third and final Champions League place. However, he’s not above question – especially on the international stage.
Having not played for Italy since World Cup 2010 and never previously being selected by Prandelli, he has consistently failed to translate prolific domestic form on to the international scene as his 10 Azzurri goals testify.His physical condition is also a cause for concern – Totò will be 35 in October, and his capacity to play three matches over the space of eight days, as the group stages require, is doubtful at best.
We also have to consider that Parma’s Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Borini of Roma and Siena’s Mattia Destro are without a single international goal. In fact, Borini and Destro have only one cap between them. Granted, all three have enjoyed sparking campaigns at club level, but the international stage is a far more imperious proposition. Whether they will be able to make a mark against the strongest defences on the continent remains to be seen.
In the absence of Rossi, the main attacking burden lies on the broad shoulders of a certain Mario Balotelli. This season has seen him exhibit his usual convergence of pure talent and inexplicable ill-discipline, as 13 League goals and four red cards will attest. His volatile rapport with City boss Roberto Mancini has been described as a father-son relationship – perhaps a hormonal, sulking teenager with a penchant for idiocy and a clearly aggrieved father, unsure whether to soothe or smite his young charge.
And here lies the problem. Balotelli has the ability to win matches, as proved by his impact on the last day of the Premiership season when his entrance proved the catalyst for an unforgettable City comeback that delivered a first League title in 44 years. But he also suffers an unfortunate habit of becoming embroiled in the ridiculous – confronting a seething Joey Barton after his dismissal was as inadvisable as it was uncalled for. If Balotelli were to self-destruct in Poland, despite his promises that he won’t, the explosion could well shatter the dreams of an entire nation.
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