Prandelli: Estonia qualifier still important
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli believes the 2012 European Championship qualifier against Estonia on Friday is still important despite his team being five points clear of its nearest group rival.
Italy has won four of five qualifiers and drawn the other match to lead Group C. Slovenia and Serbia are joint second after having both played a game more.
''It is the most difficult match I have had since taking over,'' Prandelli said Monday. ''It is a decisive game against Estonia. I want a squad that will give their all because this game is fundamental (to qualifying), and traditionally we haven't always played our best in June and September.''
Prandelli has selected a 25-man squad for fitness testing ahead of the match and the friendly on Tuesday against Ireland in Liege.
Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano return to the squad after ending the season on high notes. Balotelli won the FA Cup with Manchester City, while Cassano was part of the squad that won AC Milan's first Serie A title since 2004.
''They haven't played much, though oddly enough that means they are likely to do better in the physical tests than the others,'' Prandelli said. ''I said the same thing to Balotelli as I've just said to you. He seemed to understand and he isn't happy with his season, despite finishing with a win in a final.
''Cassano must knuckle down to work in Milan and find his place in the team. Those who don't play much, generally, lose their form.''
One player not back in the squad is Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who violated Prandelli's code of conduct by ending the season serving a three-match ban for hitting an opponent.
He also missed the wins over Slovenia and Ukraine in March as he was banned by UEFA for three games for elbowing Shakhtar Donetsk captain Dario Srna in the face during a Champions League match.
When he replaced Marcello Lippi after Italy's first-round elimination from the World Cup, Prandelli instituted new rules whereby national team players are expected to meet high behavioral standards even with their clubs.
''De Rossi isn't out of the squad for technical reasons and I am very sorry about that,'' Prandelli said. ''He needs to find his form and consistency that he appears to have lost over the last few months.
''I haven't closed the door on him, but certain things on the pitch aren't acceptable and I have said that from the start.''
Italy's next qualifier is at the Faeroe Islands on Sept. 2.