x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Italy coach questions worth of third-place game

Cesare Prandelli is struggling to find fit players for today's match against Uruguay after draining semi-final defeat to Spain.

Cesare Prandelli was forced to think out of the box during their semi-final defeat to Spain. Claudio Villa / Getty Images
Cesare Prandelli was forced to think out of the box during their semi-final defeat to Spain. Claudio Villa / Getty Images

SALVADOR, Brazil // Struggling to find players fit enough after a draining loss to Spain, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has suggested Fifa review the worth of third-place games at the Confederations Cup.

Italy face Uruguay on Sunday at the Arena Fonte Nova but less than 24 hours before kick-off Prandelli was still trying to determine which players would be fit enough to play.

"In a tournament with eight squads, maybe the third-place match should be put under review," Prandelli said late on Saturday. "That said, we will honour the match."

With Mario Balotelli and Ignazio Abate already having been sent home injured before the semi-final, key playmaker Andrea Pirlo, center back Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Claudio Marchisio have now been ruled out with muscle problems.

Also, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini and Alberto Gilardino have not recovered from Thursday's game against Spain, which Italy lost 7-6 in the penalty shootout after extra time ended 0-0.

The Spain match was played in searing heat and humidity and the third-place match could be a sweaty affair, too.

With a 1 pm kick-off, it's the only game of the tournament that will start in the middle of the day.

"I've got three players out and three others who haven't recuperated yet," Prandelli said. "Right now it's difficult to say who will play."

Prandelli will likely resort to forwards like Stephan El Shaarawy, Alessandro Diamanti and Alessio Cerci, who have seen little action thus far. Defender Davide Astori, the only outfield player who has not seen action yet, could also be an option, and Salvatore Sirigu or Federico Marchetti will likely replace captain Gianluigi Buffon in goal.

"It's an opportunity to gain some experience," Prandelli said. "Because we're facing a squad that has a lot of character."

Entering the tournament, the 20-year-old El Shaarawy was expected to pair with Balotelli in attack like at AC Milan but his only action thus far were the final 18 minutes in the final group game against Brazil.

El Shaarawy led Italy's Serie A with 14 goals in the first half of the recently concluded Serie A season but managed only two after Balotelli transferred to Milan in January.

"He had a long season and when as a young kid you reach certain objectives it's difficult to bounce back and do it again," Prandelli said. "If he plays tomorrow he needs to be ready. We'll see."

Uruguay, the South American champions, feature three experienced and talented forwards in Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, and coach Oscar Tabarez has indicated all three will start.

He does not share Prandelli's view about the wisdom of holding a third-place game.

"To me it's a very important match, and not just for the honour of finishing on the podium but because we can take advantage of facing one of the elite squads in world football," Tabarez said.

Uruguay feature eight players who ended last season in Italy's Serie A. Among them are Napoli striker Cavani, who led the Italian league with 29 goals; defender Martin Caceres, who won the Serie A title with Juventus; and midfielder Alvaro Gonzalez, who won the Italian Cup with Lazio.

Four more Uruguay players previously spent time in Serie A, with Forlan having played briefly at Inter Milan and Uruguay captain Fernando Muslera having previously stood in goal for Lazio.

Tabarez has Italian connections, too, having managed Cagliari and AC Milan in the 1990s.

Still, Tabarez was taken aback by the way Italy stood up against Spain for 120 minutes.

"The man of the match was Prandelli," Tabarez said. "He surprised all of us. He played the best squad in the world on equal terms.

"Sure Italy could be tired and be missing some key players but they'll still be difficult to face," Tabarez added. "They're a squad that doesn't want to lose. Let's see what Prandelli comes up with for us."

Prandelli called this match the toughest of the tournament in tactic terms.

The Spain match was also a challenge, one that Italy won tactically by many standards, but Prandelli feels this game is tougher because of the physical state of his squad.

"Right now I'm having trouble putting players in place," he said. "These are two completely different matches."

Uruguay lost their semi-final 2-1 to Brazil on Wednesday, a day earlier than the Spain-Italy match.

"It would be ideal if you could organise a tournament where everyone has the same chance," Prandelli said. "If one squad has fewer transfers and more days to recuperate that's an advantage."

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