Thursday January 13 2011
The forgotten full-back

As Italy return to action next month against Germany, Antonio Labbate urges Cesare Prandelli to select an in-form Parma player who deserves another Azzurri chance.

In Cesare Prandelli's six international games in charge of the Italian national side, including the abandoned European Championship qualifier against Serbia, the tactician has experimented with five different right-backs.

Juventus' Marco Motta was given 70 minutes on Prandelli's debut, Mattia Cassani of Palermo has played for 230 minutes, an hour has been handed to Inter's Davide Santon, Fiorentina's Lorenzo De Silvestri started and finished the demolition of the Faroe Islands and veteran Gianluca Zambrotta began the soon to be interrupted Serbia tie.

With the right-back shirt clearly up for grabs, it does come as something of a surprise that Cristian Zaccardo has not been given an opportunity to stake a claim for a jersey which was once, for a period of time, his second skin.

Prandelli's selection process in the role so far indicates that he is looking for a relatively young full-back who can grow in the position, with four of his five picks under the age of 27. However, the decision to call on Milan's Zambrotta in what was set to be Italy's most delicate game to date suggests that age isn't a deciding factor.

At 29, Zaccardo is too young to be consigned to history and has international experience on his side. Having made his debut in November 2004 under Marcello Lippi, he was part of the squad which ultimately went on to lift the World Cup in Germany two years later.

It should have been the start of great things for a player whose career until that night in Berlin had seen him play for Bologna, Spezia and Palermo, but it wasn't. Zaccardo began the tournament as the first choice right-back until his calamitous own goal in the 1-1 draw with the USA saw him benched. He only went on to play another 13 minutes that summer and the last of his 17 caps was won in October 2007.

That legendary own goal undoubtedly redefined opinions on his ability. Once tipped to enjoy a spell with at least one of Italy's big clubs after tasting success at Under-21 level, Zaccardo will now be eternally associated with a goal he would never have wanted to score.

The reality is that had Marcello Lippi not been at war with Christian Panucci, then Zaccardo would not have even been in Germany back then. His own agent has suggested as much only this week and once out of the Giro Azzurro it has been impossible for Zaccardo to get back in.

A 2008 move to Wolfsburg, where he was often used in midfield, complicated matters further and his chances of international recognition hardly improved when Parma, a side who would be fighting for Serie A survival, was his destination on his return to Italy a year later.

Nevertheless, Zaccardo was confident that the Stadio Tardini would offer him the stage needed to get back into a blue shirt. "I desperately wanted to return to Italy," he said at his official presentation. "My personal objective is to once again be a part of the Italy set-up by performing well in this jersey."

Cristian enjoyed a decent first season back in the peninsula under the watchful eyes of Francesco Guidolin, the Parma boss who had fielded Zaccardo in all four defensive positions during their time together at Palermo.

Guidolin was, and still is, an admirer of the player he has seen mature down the years and has so much faith in his ability that he did contemplate using Zaccardo as a defensive midfielder in front of the back four last term.

The right-back slot though is Zaccardo's natural position and he's excelled in that spot this term under Pasquale Marino. While future hopefuls such as Motta, Santon and De Silvestri have struggled to turn their potential into consistent and high-level performances, Cristian has quietly gone about his business.

While Zaccardo may not be the answer to Italy's full-back problems, he could be a good short-term solution for Prandelli until one of the young pretenders is finally in a position to make that definite jump in class. And if Serie A form is used as criteria for selection then Zaccardo has to be a serious contender to be named in the party for next month's test against Germany.

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