Friday, 13 June 2014

Cassano’s Redemption

With the announcement of the final 23-man squad by Cesare Prandelli last Monday, came one major eyebrow-raising exclusion, that of Giuseppe Rossi. The main benefactor of this snub; Antonio Cassano, who will finally get his World Cup chance.

After yet another falling out with a former club, ‘Fantantonio’ moved on from Inter and joined Parma, his 6th Serie A team where he possibly had the best season of his career. Antonio was on a mission this season. He kept his nose clean, his mouth shut and became the heart and soul of a Parma side that roared to a 6th place finish, scoring 13 goals & 6 assists in 33 appearances.
Up until this point, Cassano has had the notorious distinction of featuring in three European Championship squads but never being chosen to a World Cup squad. Twice he was excluded by Marcello Lippi, quite controversially in 2010, as the maestro was never a fan of ‘Fantantonio’ because of his infamous attitude problem. He even appeared to be falling out of Prandelli’s plans as he featured less frequently following Italy’s Euro 2012 run. But his form this season could not be ignored.
Cassano was married during Italy's infamous game against Slovakia during the 2010 World Cup,
talk about a good way to get your mind off of something!
In my last post I stated that as good as Cassano is, with all the young exciting talent the Azzuri have at their disposal; at 31, there may not be enough room for the Parma attacker. But I recant, which I rarely do…his performances in Italy’s rather disappointing friendlies this week forced me to reconsider. His introduction changed the dynamic of Italy’s attack. What Cassano lacks in pace is made up with guile. A technically gifted player Cassano can still deliver a defence-spitting pass and it seems he is one of the few players that is in sync with Mario Balotelli. The Milan striker, for all his talent, is definitely a finicky player, who demands service and the ball played to his feet. Cassano can deliver that to him, and a happy Balotelli means a successful Italy.

Speaking of Giuseppe Rossi, his exclusion from this year’s Azzurri World Cup squad is one that I do not agree with. Prandelli, explaining his decision, stated that bringing him to Brazil, with his two major knee injuries in as many years, was not worth the risk. But hold on a second here, the New Jersey born native is undoubtedly a bona-fide top class striker. He even scored 2 goals in 3 games for Fiorentina after his return from injury, which kept him on the sidelines for half the season.

The fact is the guy can score…16 goals in 22 games in an injury-shortened 2013-14 season. Many top international sides wait on the fitness or even select a player who is not 100% fit. Italy has done it in the past…think Francesco Totti in ’06 who did not start every game but made crucial contributions when called upon. With the abundance of talented midfielders on the squad, Alberto Aquilani has no business being on this squad and could have been dropped for another attacker. Italy could have used another out-and-out striker with only Balo and Immobile being the only true number 9’s. It seems that one disappointing display against Ireland undid his chance…

And finally speaking on friendlies…before all you Azzurri faithful get your panties in a bunch…FRIENDLIES DO NOT MATTER! Yes winning is a habit and Italy have not won a game since qualifying, but look at the growing injury list from other top international sides who are going ham in these friendly matches…Marco Reus for Germany, Franck Ribery for France, Romelu Lukaku for Belgium, Rafael Van der Vaart for Netherlands…it’s not worth the risk. Italy is lucky to only lose Riccardo Montolivo from these fixtures, who is ineffective as a trequartista and would have only come off the bench if played in the midfield three. And lets be serious…when has Italy ever cared about friendlies, especially against ‘lesser’ sides. Italy had a dismal 1-1 draw with Switzerland before the 2006 World Cup and went on to win the trophy and don’t forget the “devastating” 3-0 defeat to the Russians prior to Euro 2012 that had everyone writing off the Azzurri…and what happened to Italy then?

This team is talented, organized, relatively healthy and flying under the radar, just the way I like it. This squad has the potential to make some noise in Brazil and I cannot wake for the kickoff with England this coming Saturday.

By Robert Vitale

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

No Suprises From Prandelli.....Yet!

This past Tuesday, Cesare Prandelli released the much anticipated 30 man provisional squad for this summer’s FIFA World Cup Tournament in Brazil. Initial reaction to the list is one of expectancy. Only the selections of Matteo Darmian, Andrea Parolo and Romulo can really be seen as surprises. None of Prandelli’s omissions however, will raise too many eyebrows, although perhaps there are a few players who have been overlooked.

Il maestro’s selections so far reflect his style and mantra as he has gone with experienced generals, in-form players and those who have abided by his code of ethics (or at least have atoned for any transgressions).

More surprises are sure to occur when Prandelli cuts seven players in order to trim the squad down to the 23 man squad limit for the trip to Brazil. Whether or not Prandelli decides to throw a surprise in his final selection, it will be interesting to gauge how the Azzurri faithful will react to his choice.

Bad selections would be including the likes of Aquilani and Montolivo who have done nothing spectacular of note in the past season to justify their inclusion in the Nazionale setup, but may be picked because they are simply among his favourites, or by selecting the unproven and uncapped Romulo. Good selections will be the inclusion of Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and perhaps Antonio Cassano who many Azzurri fans already regard as automatic inclusions.

Being the fantasy football manager that I am, here is who I would take in my final 23 man squad based on Prandelli’s 30:

Goalkeepers: Buffon, Sirigu, Perin

Defenders: Abate, Maggio, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Ranocchia, De Sciglio, Pasqual

Midfielders: Pirlo, De Rossi, Thiago Motta, Verratti, Candreva, Marchisio

Forwards: Balotelli, Immobile, Rossi, Cerci, Insigne

Arguably, fullback is Italy’s weakest position, and Manuel Pasqual will provide the needed experience and ability to whip an accurate ball into the box if the inexperienced De Sciglio falters.

Ranocchia, (although I am not his biggest fan), has improved tremendously this past season and is less prone to the mental errors he was known for. At 6’4, he possesses an aerial threat that can definitely be used in this squad.

Marco Verratti has done more than enough this season at PSG to prove himself worthy of wearing the Azzurri shirt and displacing more experienced players in his position like Riccardo Montolivo.

Injury concerns aside, Giuseppe Rossi is perhaps the most talented player in Italian player right now and he has already found the net on occasion for Fiorentina since his recent return from yet another knee-injury.

Lorenzo Insigne is a future Azzurri star, and although often left out of Rafa Benitez’ starting eleven, when called upon, he has performed admirably on the big stage as proven in the Coppa Italia final.

Antonio Cassano has had a great season with Parma, but one never knows what kind of attitude he will bring to the team coupled with his advancing age, there are other players like Rossi and Insigne who can undoubtedly stand in for the Bari native.

Fantasy football aside, time will only tell as we wait for Prandelli’s final announcement, but one thing can be rest assured is that this is an Italy team that has plenty of promise and buzz and one that fans can definitely get behind.

Who would you take to the World Cup in Brazil??? Join the conversation

By Robert Vitale