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Lippi is defiant on Cassano

Marcello Lippi fended off criticism over his decision to leave in-form striker Antonio Cassano out of Italy's squad for key World Cup qualifiers with Montenegro and Ireland.

Marcello Lippi fended off criticism yesterday over his decision to leave in-form striker Antonio Cassano out of Italy's squad for key World Cup qualifiers with Montenegro and Ireland. "I have my convictions and I don't have to give explanations," Lippi said. Cassano, 26, has scored eight goals for Sampdoria this season and - perhaps more importantly - been the decisive factor behind the eight goals in 10 games that Giampaolo Pazzini has scored since joining the Genoa club in January.

Pazzini received his first call-up to the national team, highlighting Cassano's exclusion. "Every now and then, [Cassano] told me that with his assists he would send me to the national team," Pazzini said. "And he did. I can only say that Cassano is a very good player. But these decisions are not up to me. Let's not forget that Lippi is a world champion and he has the final call." Italy are tied for the Group 8 lead in European World Cup qualifying with Ireland. They visit Montenegro on Saturday and host Ireland four days later in Bari - Cassano's hometown.

Elsewhere, the Germany coach Joachim Loew has calmed a potentially volatile argument with Bundesliga coaches during a meeting in Dusseldorf. Loew had indirectly criticised his coaching colleagues by claiming the quality of the Bundesliga left a lot to be desired, but he explained his comments yesterday. "We can count on the support of the Bundesliga," proclaimed Loew after the meeting. "We are in agreement that we want to try and take German football forward."

The Bayer Leverkusen coach Bruno Labbadia added: "We need to be working with each other and not against each other." * With agencies

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