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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Dec 2014

Football

Italy get ready for friendly fire
AFP
Milan, March 20, 2013
First Published: 23:07 IST(20/3/2013)
Last Updated: 01:31 IST(21/3/2013)

Italy will have one eye on the Confederations Cup this June when the Azzurri take on Brazil in a friendly on Thursday, says Juventus and Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

In a match which also doubles as a pretext to Italy's 2014 World Cup qualifier away to Malta on Tuesday, the Italians, four-time World Cup winners, face the five-time champions on neutral territory in Geneva.

In keeping with his rejuvenation policy, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli could hand a first cap to on-form Torino midfielder Alessio Cerci.

Prandelli, who against all odds took Italy to the final of Euro 2012 where the Azzurri were humbled by Spain, also recalled Genoa defender Luca Antonelli almost three years after he made his debut against Estonia, in 2010.

Apart from the omission of Paris Saint Germain midfielder Marco Verrati, who levelled for Italy in a 1-1 friendly draw against the Netherlands last month, there were few other surprises.

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Super Mario
AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who has scored seven goals in six games since joining the Rossoneri from Manchester City in January, is likely to start up front, possibly with teammate Stephan El Shaarawy.

For Buffon, one of several experienced heads and one of eight Juve players in the 27-man squad, the trip will not be seen as a distraction.

"The friendly will be a good test for us," Buffon told reporters. "We have three months to prepare for the Confederations Cup and we want to win it."

While Italy top their qualifying group B on 10 points, Brazil do not take part in World Cup qualifiers as hosts of the 2014 showpiece and also the Confederations Cup later this summer.

But Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has returned for his second spell as coach of the Selecao in a bid to turn Brazil into a side capable of triumphing on home soil in 2014, needs results after a 2-1 defeat by England at Wembley in his first game back in charge.

Selected for that game, former Barcelona and AC Milan star Ronaldinho saw a 19th minute penalty saved by England 'keeper Joe Hart and was then withdrawn at half-time.

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The former World Player of the Year has since been left at home as Scolari looks to strikers Neymar, of Santos, and Zenit Saint-Petersburg's Hulk for goals.

While Scolari said Ronaldinho may well form part of his future plans, all eyes could be on Neymar -- who has so far flattered to deceive for the national team.

Brazil legend Pele recently said that while Neymar is "spectacular" with his club, "he becomes ordinary when playing for Brazil".

Several of Brazil's players ply their trade in the English Premier League, including midfielders Ramires and Oscar and centre-back David Luiz of Chelsea, as well as Queens Park Rangers 'keeper Julio Cesar.

Ramires was on Tuesday ruled out with a thigh muscle injury which Scolari hopes will heal in time for their friendly against Russia on Monday.

Italy, meanwhile, boast a squad for these two games which, to a man -- including Roma icon Francesco Totti -- plays in Serie A.

Calling out Totti
Despite the available goalscoring talents, Prandelli's recent praise of Totti's goalscoring feats this season have prompted calls for the 36-year-old to be recalled the national squad.

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Totti's 11 goals so far have taken his tally in Serie A to 226. In the league's all-time list he is now one ahead of retired AC Milan great Gunnar Nordahl (225) but 48 short of leader Silvio Piola.

Totti himself has so far kept quiet, but Buffon appeared to give the idea his full support: "It's only logical to consider someone who is re-writing the history of Italian football."


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