Soccer

Rossi taking it step by step in Italian return

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ROME (AP)

Now that Giuseppe Rossi is back on Italy's national team, he doesn't plan to make the same mistake he made two seasons ago.

The forward from New Jersey acknowledged Tuesday that one of the causes of the re-injury to his right knee in April 2012 was his hard push to return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for that year's European Championship.

The result was another year out. It's only been over the past month that Rossi has returned to form.

''During my recovery, I thought a lot about the future and I thought about being at the Euros and I paid the price,'' Rossi said at Italy's training camp in Florence. ''I learned that I need to go step by step.''

Rossi watched from home while Italy reached the final of Euro 2012 and finished third in this year's Confederations Cup.

Italy's next big tournament is next year's World Cup in Brazil. Rossi was among the final players cut from coach Marcello Lippi's 2010 roster.

''It's a dream for all of us,'' Rossi said. ''But I've learned to take things day by day, so I don't want to think too far ahead. I want to think about today's training for now, these matches, and Fiorentina. I can think about the World Cup later on. I hope I'm in great form when the callups are made.''

The 26-year-old, who was born in Teaneck and grew up in Clifton, has six goals in 27 international appearances and was a fixture in the attack of current Italy coach Cesare Prandelli until he first tore his ACL during a game against Real Madrid in October 2011 while with Spanish club Villarreal.

He had surgery then, but tore the ligament during training the following April and was operated on twice last year by Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo. Rossi transferred to Fiorentina in January and made his debut in the final Serie A match of last season as a 63rd-minute substitute on May 19. He has six goals in nine matches this season.

''It's a very important year for me,'' Rossi said. ''I'm starting over from zero, as a new player. It's a new league for me, and I have a lot of things to learn with a new coach and new teammates. So far it's been a good start.''

However, Rossi picked up a few bruises over the last 10 days with Fiorentina and he remains questionable for Italy's final two World Cup qualifiers at Denmark on Friday and against Armenia in Naples four days later.

The Azzurri have already qualified for their 14th straight World Cup, so neither Rossi nor Italy's staff wants to push him into action too soon.

''After two years out and so many matches grouped together so closely with Fiorentina, it's been tough,'' Rossi said. ''We'll see over these next few days, but I never turn my back on a match.''

Rossi's combination of skill and speed could provide a complement to Mario Balotelli's strength and talent.

''We all know Mario's characteristics, but I would play well with any forward here,'' Rossi said. ''It's an honor to be here after such a long time out.''

Rossi was asked if he plays the ''good boy'' role to Balotelli's ''bad boy'' personality.

''He's not bad. But nobody is a saint, not even me,'' Rossi said. ''We have a lot of things in common. We all get along. It's a great group.''

Having been away for so long, Rossi sees a major difference in this Italy squad from the one he left.

''I find it's a much more mature group, and more confident, and that's really important,'' he said.

Rossi is the son of Italian immigrants and his late father Fernando, the longtime soccer coach at Clifton High School, taught him to play and inspired him to seek out the Azzurri, even though he could have been a leader for the U.S. national team. His dad died in 2010, and he was the first person Rossi thought about when asked whom he would thank when he plays for Italy again.

''He's the one who got me here,'' Rossi said. ''And I've also got to thank all the physiotherapists, in New York and Fiorentina, who helped me, too.''

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Follow Andrew Dampf at http://twitter.com/AndrewDampfAP

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