Prandelli considers new options for Italy's attack
With both Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano recovering from surgery, the chances that Italy's two starting forwards will recover in time for the European Championship are slim.
So coach Cesare Prandelli is searching for new solutions ahead of upcoming friendlies at Poland on Friday and in Rome against Uruguay four days later.
''Players with Antonio's characteristics don't exist. Considering Rossi's absence also, we've got to take a new road,'' Prandelli said Monday. ''We've got to start right away and get ourselves ready for the Euros.''
Prandelli mentioned up to four new possibilities for his forward line, saying he's thinking about pairing Alessandro Matri with Giampaolo Pazzini, Mario Balotelli with Pablo Osvaldo, Pazzini with Osvaldo, or involving winger Simone Pepe in a 4-3-3.
''We don't have a real centerforward but we've got other modern forwards,'' Prandelli said. ''Of course we're hoping to have back Cassano and Rossi, but only time will tell.''
Rossi recently tore the ACL in his right knee and will need about six months to recover from surgery, while Cassano is expected to be out for four to six months after he underwent heart surgery Friday.
Rossi and Cassano played together in five of Italy's last seven matches, and Cassano led Italy with six goals in qualifying.
Pazzini has been Prandelli's first choice off the bench recently and scored the late goal against Slovenia in September that secured Italy's qualification for the Euros with two matches to spare.
Juventus forward Matri has played just twice for the national team, while Roma's Argentina-born striker Osvaldo only made his Italy debut in the Azzurri's final qualifier against Northern Ireland last month.
The 21-year-old Balotelli is blossoming with Manchester City but is still yet to score a goal in five appearances for Italy.
''I don't want to give him too much responsibility,'' Prandelli said.
Somewhat surprisingly, Prandelli once again left Antonio Di Natale out of the squad, even though the Udinese forward led Serie A in scoring the past two seasons with a combined 57 goals and again leads the league with eight goals in 10 matches this season.
''He's an extraordinary player, but he's (34) and I've got to create continuity and renewal with younger players,'' Prandelli said. ''If by March or April he's got 24-25 goals then we'll consider him, but we know him well, we don't need to evaluate him. He has international experience and he could insert himself in no time.''
Di Natale's last appearance for the national team came under previous coach Marcello Lippi when he scored in a 3-2 loss to Slovakia that eliminated Italy from last year's World Cup in the first round. He has 10 goals in 36 appearances.
Another possible replacement, Parma forward Sebastian Giovinco, was sent home from Italy's training camp Monday with a muscle injury.
Prandelli visited Cassano over the weekend and told the striker that if he doesn't recover in time for the Euros he could join the squad at next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine as a 24th man.
''He could provide a big contribution in terms of spirit,'' Prandelli said. ''Cassano has a special feeling for this squad.''
Who will take Cassano's - and Rossi's - place on the pitch, however, remains an open question.