Italy’s friendly with Sweden on Wednesday may be remembered more for the players missing than the match’s participants.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi sent home Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta and Andrea Pirlo after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, while Sweden is without forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is taking a break from the national team to decide if he wants to continue playing for his country.
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The game in Cesena will mark the debut of new Sweden coach Erik Hamren, who was hired two weeks ago to replace Lars Lagerback, who resigned last month after Sweden failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Hamren has picked an extra large squad of 24 players – including seven from the under-21 side – in order to familiarize himself with his team.
Italy will also field a youthful squad, as Lippi wants to get a good look at some developing players before choosing his 23-man team to defend the World Cup title in South Africa next year.
“I already have 16 or 17 players certain for the World Cup,” Lippi said. “I’ve got to find another six or seven.”
Sampdoria forward Giampaolo Pazzini has been outspoken in making his case for one of those spots.
With constant reports over the possibility of Juventus’ Brazilian-born forward Amauri joining Italy’s team, Pazzini didn’t conceal his opinion on the matter Monday.
“It is a little bothersome if it’s going to be a Brazilian to win the race for the national team,” Pazzini said. “It’s one thing if you’re half Italian and half foreigner but in this case there really isn’t any Italian involved.”
Amauri is attempting to gain Italian citizenship by ways of a distant relative.
Pazzini’s honesty also extends to the field, such as when he told the referee he scored with his hand in the 82nd minute against the Netherlands. That was Pazzini’s first appearance for Italy since picking up a red card in the third minute of a 1-1 draw with Ireland in April, after he elbowed John O’Shea as they went up for a header, bloodying the defender’s face.
“That expulsion stuck with me. I was in great form, playing my first game as a starter and I had scored four days earlier in Montenegro,” Pazzini said. “I paid for that and I feel like I should have some good fortune now.”
Pazzini is near the top of the Serie A scoring chart with seven goals this season, taking advantage of his partnership at Sampdoria with the talented Antonio Cassano, a player Lippi refuses to call up.
Another Italy forward, Giuseppe Rossi, is also showing signs of a return to form.
Int’l Friendlies, Nov. 14
Like Pazzini, Rossi performed well when he came on in the second half against the Netherlands.
The New Jersey-born forward scored twice in a 3-1 win over the United States at the Confederations Cup in June, but it had been mostly downhill since then for the 22-year-old.
Rossi’s club Villarreal was languishing in last place in the Spanish league until recently, and his performances with Italy had also not impressed lately.
“I had never gone through such a difficult moment in my career,” Rossi said. “I don’t know if the honeymoon with the national team is already over, but I’m not thinking about losing my spot for the World Cup. Right now the only thing that counts for me is Azzurro and the next game with Sweden.”
Along with Pazzini and Rossi, other new players Lippi might use include goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, defenders Christian Maggio and Domenico Criscito and midfielders Davide Biondini and Antonio Candreva.
Besides Ibrahimovic, Sweden is also without Hamburger SV striker Marcus Berg, who has a cold.
“I would love to have Zlatan in the national team, since he is the best football player we have in Sweden. But he has to be motivated as well,” Hamren said.
Hamren currently coaches Norwegian team Rosenborg and will remain in that job until August when he will switch to coaching Sweden full time.
Associated Press writer Malin Rising contributed to this report from Stockholm.