Prandelli almost left Balotelli out of Italy squad

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was close to leaving Manchester

City striker Mario Balotelli out of his squad for upcoming 2014

World Cup qualifying matches.

Prandelli said Monday that he was annoyed Balotelli chose to

undergo eye surgery just before the last two qualifiers, ruling him

out of the matches against Bulgaria and Malta.

”I admit, I was upset about the fact that Balotelli chose to

have his eye operation when there were two international games,”

Prandelli said. ”I thought about it for a bit, but then I thought

of the games he has played for his country and I was comforted. It

will be yet another chance to see if he wants to be a

champion.”

Italy plays in Armenia on Friday before entertaining Denmark in

Milan, four days later.

The Italy coach left out Antonio Cassano despite his solid start

to the season, but insists it is not the end of the Inter Milan

striker’s international career.

”In the last two years I won my bet on him when no-one thought

he could give us a hand,” Prandelli said. ”Now I want to see

something different. But it’s not the end of his Italy career.

”I just preferred to look at younger lads as I know perfectly

what Cassano can give us. I’ve made the same choice with (Antonio)

Di Natale, knowing that I could always call on him to resolve any

problems.”

Despite his desire to focus on youth, Prandelli has recalled

Alberto Gilardino, who at 30 is the same age as Cassano.

”Alberto knows perfectly what is his role now, which is to be

the fifth or sixth striker,” Prandelli said. ”If I call up

Cassano it’s to play him from the start.”

Prandelli has also called up Stephan El Shaarawy after the

teenage striker’s impressive start to the season.

El Shaarawy made his debut in a friendly against England but

this is his first squad inclusion for a competitive international

fixture.

El Shaarawy heads a group of young players that Prandelli has

been including in his squads since Italy’s loss to World Cup winner

Spain in the European Championship final.

”I’m focusing on a nice little group of them, without naming

any names so as not to put too much responsibility on them,”

Prandelli said. ”I spoke with (Spain coach Vicente) Del Bosque 20

days ago, and he also told me that after the World Cup he changed

50 percent of the players.

”They then went to the next European Championship and won

again. Renewing the team is the only possible route.”

Torino defender Angelo Ogbonna withdrew from the squad on Monday

afternoon after worsening problems with his prostate gland.

AC Milan defender Ignazio Abate failed to take part in training

and remains in bed with the flu, but is expected to recover for

Friday’s match.