Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has finally released his 23 man squad for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. However, his decision to omit Fiorentina star, Giuseppe Rossi, has come into heavy scrutiny.
After being forced to drop Riccardo Montolivo due to injury in their friendly game against Ireland, Prandelli finalised the team, and the exclusion of strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro was a surprise to the footballing world. However, the exclusion is easy to judge as incorrect, in particular in Rossi’s sake, but when you look at the facts, Rossi and Destro’s sacrifices may have been necessary for the balance of the team.
Looking at the season just passed, both strikers had impressive numbers next to their names, 16 goals in 22 games for Fiorentina’s front man, and 13 in 18 games for Destro, both however, were also affected by long term injuries. Pepito’s injury however, kept him out of the season until the last few weeks of the Serie A campaign, taking him into the World Cup preparation in questionable shape, and here is where the dilemma begins to unfold. Italian media reports were touching upon Rossi’s situation, and whilst they highlighted his positive improvement in his physical state, they commented heavily also on his psychological fragility, stating his trepidation in getting too physical against his team mates in training. This behaviour was noticeable also in Italy’s friendly match with Ireland, with the Viola striker playing a very quiet 71 minutes of the game, rarely getting too involved.
Despite this, he was still in the running for a spot on the final 23 man squad, up until Montolivo’s injury. The AC Milan midfielder’s leg injury forced him out of the World Cup finals, and it created a chain reaction of exclusions. Despite AC Milan having a sub par season, Montolivo has always been a favourite of Prandelli, and a big part of the national squad, so losing such an important element of his midfield, Prandelli really had to evaluate his remaining players. With Aquilani also picking up a knock, the Italian coach could no longer hide behind Rossi’s potential, and face the fact that he would risk bringing an unprepared player to Brazil.
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Despite being an incredibly skillful player, if something were to happen to him in Rio, the Azzurri would suffer as a whole. Destro on the other hand, was fit, in condition to play, and was in scintillating form prior to his three match ban, which also saw him being dropped by Prandelli for the friendly against Spain as part of his Code of Ethics for the national team. However, with Rossi and Destro dropped, it was evident that Prandelli considered the Roma striker as Rossi’s substitute, and without Rossi, then Destro was no longer needed.
With the other attackers left on the team, Prandelli has a wide array of playing styles, and all of them fit enough to compete. Cassano being an old fashioned Seconda Punta, that is, secondary striker, he is going to be useful when it comes to linking the midfield to the forwards. Insigne, who, though very talented, was a surprise inclusion considering his scarce appearances in the Serie A. He too plays as a withdrawn forward, and is likely to act as Cassano’s understudy. Alessio Cerci, has had a stellar season with Torino, but is no box striker as he plays his best from the right of a three prong attack, being able to cut in and shoot with his left.
The last two spots left for the Italian forwards were assigned to Ciro Immobile, and Mario Balotelli. The latter is a pupil of Prandelli, and even though highly inconsistent and prone to causing controversy, was one of Italy’s top performers in the Euro 2012 competition. The former instead is a surprise, not for his inclusion in the squad, but rather for his extraordinary season. Playing alongside Cerci in the Turin based side, Ciro Immobile was the leagues top scorer and has earned his spot despite the lack of International experience. Ciro Immobile was also voted as the Serie A Player of the Season by Outside of the Boot’s readers at the End of Season Awards.
Both Balotelli and Immobile play comfortably within the 12 yard box, but are not limited to it, giving Prandelli a certain depth in characteristics for his strikers. In light of this, the Italian Coach’s only option was to send Rossi and Destro home, as without Montolivo, Prandelli seems to want to be able to field players who are able to add a level of creativity starting deeper down the field.
If Montolivo’s injury had not taken place, then we might have seen a few changes in the final selection for the 2006 World Cup winners. Unfortunately, Italy misses out on two great strikers, and one can’t help but hope that Balotelli’s temper or Insigne’s inexperience does not prove costly for the Italian side as they try to rebuild the reputation of the Azzurri after their group stage knockout in South Africa in 2010.