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Italy to field experimental squad against Cyprus

Having already qualified for the World Cup, Italy will field an experimental squad against Cyprus to finish group play on Wednesday.

sports Updated: Oct 13, 2009 20:52 IST

Having already qualified for the World Cup, Italy will field an experimental squad against Cyprus to finish group play on Wednesday.

The entire starting 11 from Saturday's 2-2 draw in Ireland will be benched, and coach Marcello Lippi will use the other half of his squad.

"I promised the team to change the 11 starters if we qualified in Dublin and I'm keeping my word," Lippi said. "I don't expect the squad to play from memory but I want to see a serious effort." Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro will play in defense after missing the game in Dublin due to yellow cards and Alberto Gilardino will spearhead the attack after coming on to score a 90th-minute equalizer against Ireland that secured the Azzurri a spot in South Africa.

The match will be played at Ennio Tardini stadium in Parma, where many of the Azzurri began their careers. Cannavaro played for Parma from 1995-2002, winning a UEFA Cup, two Italian Cups and the Italian Super Cup.

The 36-year-old captain is set to make his 130th appearance for Italy, having broken Paolo Maldini's previous record of 127 against Switzerland in August.

"I have really great memories of Parma and the city, you live well there and it was a very important stage in my career," said Cannavaro, who now plays for Juventus.

Gilardino scored 23 goals in both the 2003-04 and 2004-05 Serie A seasons with Parma, prompting a transfer to AC Milan. He's now with Fiorentina and his former coach at Parma, Cesare Prandelli. "I had three fantastic years at Parma and I would like to repay those fans," said Gilardino, who has scored 13 goals in 37 appearances for Italy.

Against Cyprus, Gilardino will play with American-born forward Giuseppe Rossi, who developed in Parma's youth system and then returned to help the club avoid relegation from Serie A with nine goals in the second half of the 2006-07 season.

Rossi now plays for Villarreal in Spain.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon also got his start with Parma, playing seven seasons for the club before moving to Juventus in 2001. While Buffon is not expected to play against Cyprus, if he does it would mark his 100th appearance for Italy. None of Italy's players are currently with Parma, which has just returned to Serie A after a year in the second division. Napoli's Morgan De Sanctis or Cagliari's Federico Marchetti will likely start in goal. Davide Santon, Salvatore Bocchetti and Alessandro Gamberini will join Cannavaro in defense. The midfield will probably consist of Gennaro Gattuso and Simone Pepe surrounding Udinese playmaker Gaetano D'Agostino, with Rossi and Fabio Quagliarella supporting Gilardino up front. "It's going to be an important opportunity and I'm going to try to take advantage of it," said Santon, the 18-year-old Inter Milan right back.

Santon and teammates will have to keep an eye on Constantinos Charalambides, who scored two first-half goals in Cyprus' 4-1 win over Bulgaria on Saturday.

Italy leads Group 8 with 21 points. Ireland is assured of finishing second and entering the playoffs with 17 points, while Bulgaria has 11, Cyprus has nine, Montenegro has eight and Georgia has three.

Ireland closes at home against Montenegro and Bulgaria hosts Georgia in Wednesday's other group games.