Soccer

Prandelli smiles with fewer foreign stars in Italy

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ROME (AP)

Serie A's inability to attract foreign stars this season has left a smile on the face of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.

Looking to build on a surprise runner-up performance at the European Championship, Prandelli now has the added bonus of more Italian players being used at Serie A's top clubs.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva having left for Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan started 10 Italian players in Saturday's 3-1 win over Bologna, when newly signed Giampaolo Pazzini scored a hat trick. It was the most home-grown players the club had used in 17 years.

Having been left off Italy's squad for Euro 2012, Pazzini is back for the Azzurri's opening two World Cup qualifiers at Bulgaria on Friday and against Malta in Modena four days later.

Pazzini struggled to find playing time behind Argentina forward Diego Milito at Inter Milan last season but his fortunes have been revived following a crosstown swap with fellow Italy forward Antonio Cassano the week before the season started.

Following Ibrahimovic's departure, Milan needed a striker with the characteristics of Pazzini, who is a solid finisher inside the area and able at headers.

The 28-year-old Pazzini has made 24 appearances for Italy and scored four goals, including one against Slovenia last year that qualified Italy for Euro 2012. Prandelli knows Pazzini well, having coached him at Fiorentina before taking over the national team.

Another Italy forward who had a solid weekend was Sebastian Giovinco, who earned a penalty kick and scored twice in Juventus' 4-1 win at Udinese.

Juventus was hoping to sign a high-scoring forward from abroad but had to settle for a loan deal for Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal on the final day of the transfer window. But Giovinco, who rejoined from Parma for ?11 million ($13.9 million), is so far proving to be Juve's best acquisition.

''We always believed in him, he just lacked some continuity,'' Prandelli said of Giovinco, who came off the bench in Italy's opening two matches in Poland - following a 15-goal season with Parma. ''He had already made a jump in quality.''

With UEFA's financial fair play rules coming into effect, Italian clubs are spending much more carefully.

For example, Milan spent just ?17.8 million ($22.4 million) on new players this season, and took in ?63 million ($79.2 million) as an entire squad's worth of players departed - a positive balance of ?45.2 million ($56.8 million).

Likewise, Napoli sold Argentina forward Ezequiel Lavezzi to PSG for ?30 million ($37.7 million) and replaced him with home-grown talent Lorenzo Insigne, who scored 18 goals on loan with Pescara last season, helping the club to the Serie B title.

With Mario Balotelli unavailable while undergoing eye surgery and Antonio Cassano left out for fitness reasons, the 21-year-old Insigne has received his first call-up to Italy's squad.

''I remember watching the super cup between Inter and Roma two years ago when there was a total of four (Italian) starters,'' Prandelli said Monday. ''This year there were many more. I'm not sure if the change is due purely to economic reasons, but the clubs are developing more young players and that's definitely an advantage to the national team.

''When you're in a crisis you need to find new options, be innovative and take some risks,'' Prandelli said. ''All of the managers are going to feel like they need to do something extra this season. They don't have the big stars available anymore.''

Meanwhile, Prandelli explained that he left Cassano out because his physical condition is still only ''50-60 percent'' after undergoing minor heart surgery last year.

Prandelli added that he left out defender Giorgio Chiellini and midfielder Thiago Motta because both were injured in the Euro 2012 final vs. Spain, affecting their preparations for the club season.

Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo was also left out after injuring his right thigh against Bologna, while midfielder Daniele De Rossi and fullback Federico Balzaretti were included despite injuries at the weekend.

With Balzaretti's condition in mind, Atalanta fullback Federico Peluso was a late addition to the squad Monday.



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