Wednesday June 11 2014
Cassano-Balotelli v.2?

Can Antonio Cassano rekindle his Euro 2012 partnership with Mario Balotelli at the 2014 World Cup? Luca Cetta considers Italy’s options.

Cesare Prandelli admitted after Euro 2012 that he was moving in a different direction. This meant, perhaps shockingly, no place for Antonio Cassano. Not for the first time, the Bari native would have to overcome obstacles to prove himself worthy of the Italian shirt.

As Italy set about securing their World Cup spot in record time, Prandelli still found no place for FantAntonio. Even when impressing at new club Parma he looked a snowball’s chance in hell. “I have 0.0 per cent chance of making the World Cup,” Cassano declared in January.

Then, a glimmer of hope. “After the European Championship we wanted to look forward. Cassano was 30 years old and we thought that other players would develop,” Prandelli said in March. “If these players have not developed as we had hoped and a player is playing better at 32 than he did at 30, then why not [select him]?”

Nonetheless, Cassano still looked likely to miss his third World Cup. Prandelli: “I must give the utmost faith in a squad that took us to the World Cup with two matches to spare.” Never considered by Marcello Lippi, Cassano’s biggest impact at a major tournament was in his third, at Euro 2012.

There he formed an exciting partnership with Mario Balotelli. The ex-Sampdoria man started all six matches, but having just returned from heart surgery, did not have the legs to finish any. He started alongside Balotelli five times and netted once. It has taken nearly two years to see Cassano don the shirt once more.

A stellar season – 12 goals in 34 games – for Parma was the result of a more focused FantAntonio. “I’m a player that has had and thrown away a lot of opportunities, and I’ve always been that way. But now I want to think less about what has been and more about the present. The present is what I would like to have – the World Cup,” he declared earlier this year.

Prandelli obliged: “He put himself back up for the challenge and he won. At that age, he realised it was his last chance.”

Cassano was included in the 30-man preliminary squad and by all reports impressed sufficiently at Coverciano to be assured a spot. Following a friendly with the Republic of Ireland, Cassano realised his dream. Against Luxembourg last week he showed the flair and invention of a player enjoying his football. Cassano immediately created openings for Balotelli, rekindling memories of two years prior.

At this World Cup Prandelli has a number of systems up his sleeve and Cassano could play an important role in just about all. He links up well with Balotelli – Super Mario leading the line and Cassano allowed to roam. They do not crowd each other’s space and have enough different characteristics to complement one another. He was one of the two attacking players behind Balotelli against Luxembourg and looked impressive. Cassano would also prove useful in a trident attack. That’s the sort of versatility Prandelli is counting on. And there’s not the fitness issues of Euro 2012 to deal with. A leaner Cassano played 90 minutes for Parma in 18 of his 33 Serie A starts.

What Cassano and Balotelli hold over the other attacking options is international experience, and as a result, goals. They are the only ones to have participated in a major tournament and with 12 and 10 goals respectively, are the most prolific.

If not them, who could start against England? A Corriere dello Sport poll asked whether Ciro Immobile or Balotelli should play and the overwhelming response – 86 per cent to 14 – favoured the new Borussia Dortmund striker. Immobile was Serie A’s leading scorer and showed his prowess against Fluminense by netting a hat-trick. Would Prandelli play both? “Everything is possible, but playing two central strikers when you have quality players in midfield tends to be a forced decision.”

It’s not the end of the decision making. Aside from Cassano, there’s Lorenzo Insigne to consider. He was on the end of two Immobile assists on Sunday and recalling their days at Pescara, said: “Even though we haven’t played together at club level for two years, we still need just a glance to understand each other.” Immobile’s other partner in crime, Alessio Cerci, is another who can make use of the space in behind a main striker.

Prandelli could take the framework from Luxembourg and look towards one – or both – of Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva. The pair would also be charged with stemming the flow from England’s full-backs.

Yet from having no chance of making the squad to an impressive return, it would not be a surprise to see Cassano make an impact. He and Balotelli showed what they could do two years ago and for FantAntonio, an impressive tournament would be the culmination of a personal and professional rejuvenation.

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Have your say...
Rossi doesn't get injured halfway through the season and goes on to score 28 goals and have an amazing season.
He arrives in Brazil in red hot form and is Italy's first choice striker.

We can dream.

Balo proved everyone wrong in 2012.Many expected him to get sent off but he didn't.Instead he scored 3 very good goals and gave us one of our most exciting victories ever against Germany.

Fingers crossed.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 6:52pm
mm, you are correct. Political correctness destroys everything it touches. In the working world, in politics, and now here in sport. Unqualified, lazy  get the position ahead of others. This manager has wasted years on Balotelli. 
on the 11th June, 2014 at 6:51pm
Maldini's Heir, let us clarify some things for you since your knowledge of Azzurri football seems too influenced by the propaganda of Balotelli.

The 2 goals vs. Germany in 2012 were quality. BUT, a perfect pass received from Cassano and Monty, any in-form striker would have scored w/o much effort too.

Di Canio, Vieri, Miccoli scored more sensational goals than Balo (& they were never glorified).

Against Spain in the FINAL, Balotelli failed!!
Ditto for Eire, Luxembg, Flumin.

He fails!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 6:47pm
Wouldn't start Any of them.


De sclingo Chiellini Bagzarli Abate

Verati Pirlo De rossi

Insigne Cerci

That is good Chemistry come on
on the 11th June, 2014 at 5:48pm
If it was up to me line up v england would be;

Barzagli De Rossi Chiellini

Darmian Verratti Pirlo Marchisio De Sciglio

Balotelli Immobile
on the 11th June, 2014 at 4:37pm
If the reports are true and candreva is to play in support of balotelli as a lone striker i am utterly disappointed. Candreva has had 20 caps and never scored. He's a good athlete but has no class and doesn't have the qualities to play as a trequartista. I have never been convinced by him. I know it was a friendly but we looked so blunt against luxemburg with him in that position. Cassano or immobile has to play alongside balotelli.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 4:27pm

"A Corriere dello Sport" Yeah, but how often do they say anything good about Balo or anything around milan players. They write so much junk it's sad. Biased galore.

If you don't play Balo against England your just stupid. He knows the league too which is an advantage. The guy always does well for the national. Just cause immobile has sparked lately doesnt give him the right to remove the best striker italy has, Balotelli.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:51pm
@ Sanrella I still maintain that another player would've come home a hero from the Euros with those goals against Germany. I agree that Immobile should come on if Balo doesn't perform. In that humidity Balo needs to use his strength to hold up the ball and win free kicks. He or Pirlo can then score or Pirlo can knock one in for Chiellini or Bonucci. Its not going to be pretty but it might be effective. Immobile and Insigne to come on and inject pace.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:44pm
@ Dario You go for speed in that humidity and see how far they go. This is a tournament where experience will be key. In any other circumstances if we were just talking about Italy's leading goal scorer without all the rubbish that goes on then the rational thing to do would be to play your experienced striker and have your younger striker come off the bench not the other way around.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:40pm
@ Cabrelli quite frankly the 86% is a shocking indictment on some people. This is unprecedented. Even Ronaldo (before he became good circa 06/07) was probably more popular despite being an arrogant so and so. It doesn't help when a country like Italy which still struggles with racism is so opposed to one of their own players. If Balo does have a good tournament (i.e. does the same as he did in the Euros) it'll be interesting to see the reaction but the added pressure is in no way helpful.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:36pm
No mm unlike you I apply the same logic to Balo as I do to other players. He's Italy's leading goal scorer and was decisive in the Euros so he'll start and you're really going to have to get used to it or seek professional help as I keep telling you.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:31pm
v England :
Abate - Barzagli - Chiellini - De Sciglio
De Rossi
Candreva - Pirlo - Motta/Marchisio

Balo hasn't had a great season and Immobile should be given the nod. Hopefully Prandelli won't be too negative (given it's the first game) and has a real go at England.

Their defense is their weak spot and Italy need to take advantage of that. Prandelli needs to realize that a win here will put one foor in the knockouts for Italy.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 3:07pm
86% is slightly high no? I wonder what it would've been like had they done the tally before Immobile scored a hat-trick against a world class Fluminense. I still think somehow Immobile would've come out on top. Somehow.If Balotelli's to start, then he'll need Cassano for sure even though Cassano should start anyway. I trust CP to make the right choice.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 1:36pm
Maldini's Heir - i wonder that, too. Balotelli has always played and given his best for Italy, he deserves support. If we play one up front, I'd play Balotelli. Two up front and I'd play Cassano-Balotelli. Three up front and I'd play Insigne-Immobile-Cerci simply because two wingers that know Immobile's runs could prove very valuable. 4-1-4-1 is very interesting from Prandelli. I hope it works. I'd have Insigne and Marchisio behind Balotelli, not Candreva. Insigne has a great engine, and ability
on the 11th June, 2014 at 1:02pm
Maldini's Heir,Balo has to earn the peoples support however he does little to get that.

I back him and have faith in him but if he hasn't done much by 65th minute against England then Immobile has to come on and stay for the other games if he does well.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 12:37pm
Immobile guarantees great play and goals.....Balo guarantees problems and controversy. It's a no brainer, Immobile should get the start.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 12:25pm
Cassano Needs to start. Italy needs another creative player on the field other than Pirlo and Cassano is very creative. As for Balotelli or Immobile I would go with Balotelli. He seems to have his hea on straight and when he as his head on straight he is a strong force upfront.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 12:24pm
@maldini heir
You really are stupid!
Balotelli has had the full attention of prandelli for years- wrapped in cotton wall and treated like a baby, if immobile had had a fraction of the time that balo has had immobile would have scored double what balo has! Balo is CP top scorer coz gila and oswaldo where picked over immob and destro! Riva, 35 goals- does that mean has hes top scorer he should be picked too?? Balo has had a bad season if hed had a season like immob then great but he hasnt!!!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:57am
Possibly the laziest front two in the world cup. On their day, very very good - day off? worse than a pair of drunk 13 year old boys
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:43am
Immobile can come on as a sub but if Mario is benched can he emotionally take on that role after losing the starting job. The England match is vital for the Azzurri to advance and Prandelli must get the attack options right from the start or risk a repeat of 2010. Difficult and vital choices ahead for Prandelli.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:36am
The idiotic hype has already begun... I love it when England fans and the media start talking themselves into thinking that Italia (or anybody else) are either no good; too old; too young etc. Italia to score at least twice and a relatively comfortable win.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:34am
What a great poll by corriere dello sport- underlines that the whole of italy can see immobile is everything balotelli isnt- a striker that can score! Il wait for maldini heir to come on here and tell us the whole of italy is racist now too and that the poll is inaccurate as it doesnt take into account the goal he scored against germany 2 years ago!!!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:34am
As long as it's not that horrific 4-5-1 with Marchisio and Candreva in attack
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:32am
Balo knows that this WC stage to be truly recognised as a great he needs to score goals. He's seem to be in a happy place now that he's got himself engaged, now go off and impress his missus and us with goals a plenty....

Forza Azzurri
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:31am
Against England it has to b Insigne Immobile with Cerci. Speed and skill is what is needed. Although Immobile is a novice at this level so was schillci!
on the 11th June, 2014 at 11:23am
if he use a 4:3:3 he must pick
insigne at left cerci at right&immobile the lone striker
on the 11th June, 2014 at 10:50am
86% of the people who voted wanted Prandelli to drop his leading goal scorer? Has there ever been a similar situation where a country's leading goal scorer is one of its least popular players? One final question: what would happen if the country got behind Balo as much as they have got behind Immobile?
on the 11th June, 2014 at 10:38am
Cassano's inclusion shows that Prandelli has kept an open mind throughout his tender which can only be a good thing. He's produced some good form this season and he linked up really well with Balo in the Euros. As I've said before I really like the look of Italy's striking options because they can all play together. When we beat Germany in 06 we had 4 strikers on the pitch at the end and you could see all 4 of our strikers on the pitch at the same time. I still think there was room for Rossi....
on the 11th June, 2014 at 10:30am
Always loved player. My issue is Balotelli...don't get me wrong, he's good but these days he seems to drop back outside the box to be the assist man rather than the out and out striker. This is worrying considering Italy need goals. If I were CP I would go with Immobile to start the match...then bring on Balotelli as super sub.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 10:20am

' A Corriere dello Sport poll asked whether Ciro Immobile or Balotelli should play and the overwhelming response – 86 per cent to 14'

Amazing statistic.
on the 11th June, 2014 at 9:40am

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