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Italy coach calls on players to stake their claim

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ROME - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli called on his fringe players to stake their claim for a World Cup place during a training camp that will cut seven players from his provisional 30-man squad.

Two years after a surprise appearance in the final of Euro 2012, Prandelli embarks on a first World Cup campaign hopeful of putting the Azzurri in contention for a record-equalling fifth triumph.

The 56-year-old insists that that dream can only take shape once Italy, who have dropped to ninth in FIFA's rankings, successfully negotiate passage through a Group D composed of England, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The first step will begin when Prandelli sheds seven players from his 30-man squad during ten intense days of training and physical tests beginning Monday at their Coverciano base near Florence.

"Now, we have 10 days of training in which I will also be taking into consideration the results of scientific tests, without having to rely solely on what I see," said Prandelli.

Among the strikers, only AC Milan's Mario Balotelli has cemented his place. It means veteran Antonio Cassano (Parma), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina), Torino striker Ciro Immobile — Serie A's top scorer this season so far on 22 goals — and Mattia Destro (Roma) will all be under the microscope.

Italian media have recently speculated on a 'duel' between Cassano, who despite having 35 caps would make his World Cup debut, and Rossi, who only returned from a four-month injury lay-off two weeks ago.

But Prandelli said on Friday: "Both of them could make the trip: I'm not excluding anyone."

Prandelli believes the 24-year-old Immobile could go on to make a starring appearance by emulating Italy legends Paolo Rossi and Salvatore (Toto) Schillaci.

Rossi scored six goals on his way to Italy's World Cup triumph in 1982 while Schillaci became a huge star in 1990 when, after going on as a substitute in the first game, he cemented his place and scored six goals to also win the competition's "Golden Boot".

"He (Immobile) has scored a lot of goals and silenced the critics who said he was 'only a boy'," said Prandelli.

"Ten months ago he wasn't in contention, but thanks to his stubbornness he is now."

Choices must also be made in the midfield, with Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina) and recent call-up Romulo (Verona) said to be in the balance.

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