x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli can always rely on age

Italy's youngsters are not giving the Azzurri coach much incentive for selection, writes Ian Hawkey.

Antonio Cassano, 30, one of the many experienced Italian forwards who have made an impressive start to the season. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters
Antonio Cassano, 30, one of the many experienced Italian forwards who have made an impressive start to the season. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters

Cesare Prandelli, Italy's national coach, on Monday spoke again about the need to "rejuvenate" the Azzurri. It has been a continuing theme of his two years in charge, and began as a necessary reaction to the creakiness displayed by the veterans who struggled at the 2010 World Cup under Marcello Lippi, his predecessor.

The trouble for Prandelli, as he prepares to name his squad for qualifying games for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil against Armenia and Denmark this month, is that he looks back on the latest weekend of domestic Italian Serie A action and sees the virtues of age spread abundantly before him.

With the exception of AC Milan's lively teenager Stephan El Shaawary, the best Italians in front of goal tend, at the moment, to be in their 30th year or beyond.

Antonio Di Natale, whom Prandelli took to the European championships, approaches his 35th birthday still as Udinese's most reliable source of goals, with two in his three league matches so far.

His aching knees mean he observes a careful practice regimen and that another capocannoniere award - he was Serie A's leading scorer in 2000/10 and 2010/11 - is probably beyond his reach.

Alberto Gilardino, 30, won his last cap in June 2011. His case for a recall has been strengthened by an emphatic start to his loan spell at Bologna: his two against Catania took the 2006 World Cup winner to five in five outings so far.

He talks of his eagerness to play again for his country. With Mario Balotelli, 22, out of favour with Prandelli, there is a potential vacancy in the squad.

Antonio Cassano, 30, is another enjoying new surroundings. Cassano was left out of Italy's first two World Cup qualifiers, but his form for Inter Milan, his sixth club, is compelling.

Among those alongside him on four goals so far is one Rolando Bianchi, another who has represented half a dozen clubs. Bianchi, 29, hit two goals for Torino in the 5-1 rout of Atalanta.

The king of the veteran parade, though, is Fabrizio Miccoli. The former Juventus, Benfica, Fiorentina and Perugia forward hit a hat-trick for Palermo against Chievo in a 4-1 victory on Sunday.

Miccoli, 33, retired from international football in 2010, after years of being continually snubbed by Lippi.

Prandelli will have admired his third strike at the weekend, as the rest of Italy did, a volley from almost inside the centre circle, an inspiration to all aspiring evergreens.

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