Teen Zaniolo could make Italy debut after stunning season
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Nicolo Zaniolo had not played a match in Italy’s top flight less than a year ago but could make his first appearance for Italy this week.
He scored his first Champions League goals last month as he led Roma to a 2-1 win at home against Porto in the first leg of the round of 16.
“It’s credit to (former Roma coach Eusebio) Di Francesco, who gave him the possibility of playing almost all the time, in the Champions League and in Serie A, giving him enormous confidence,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said on Monday.
“He is a young lad. He has always done well. It’s clear that when you’re young, you can have moments that are more difficult, but he has talent and now he has the chance to make his international debut and that’s the same for everyone who is here.”
There are also five players under 22 on the 29-man list.
“What’s interesting in the league is that, compared to four or five months ago, the youngsters are playing more and so they have improved,” Mancini said. “This is a positive thing for them, for Italian football, for the Italy team and the under-21 team.
“I called up a few more players so I can evaluate them and because I don’t know the conditions of all the lads. I also had to leave some out with great sadness.”
One of those players left out was Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli was included in Mancini’s first two squads and played his first matches for Italy since the 2014 World Cup. This is the third consecutive time he has been omitted despite scoring five goals in eight matches for Marseille.
“Mario is still not in optimal condition for the national team,” Mancini said. “He has improved on a physical level. He has a good scoring average and can improve more. We expect a lot from him.”
Also called up was veteran Fabio Quagliarella, who could make his first Italy appearance in nearly 10 years.
Italy kicks off its qualifying campaign on Saturday against Finland in Udine before hosting Liechtenstein in Parma three days later.