Italy Faces Attacking Problems in Poland
Italy will head to Poland for a friendly Friday with attacking problems at the forefront of their minds, with starting forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano out with long-term injuries.
Rossi had knee surgery last week and Cassano is recovering from heart surgery, with both players expected to be out for up to six months.
The chances of either of them recovering for the European Championship are slim, although Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and their teammates have not given up hope.
"We miss them because from a technical point of view, with their characters and their experience, they would have given us a very big helping hand," Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. "But they will give that to us again when they return. I really hope they will be with us at the Euros.
"Cassano is exuberant by nature. We miss him a lot, because he gave us that lighthearted aspect, that element of craziness in just the right doses which was really good for us."
Italy's attacking woes grew deeper Monday after forward Sebastian Giovinco was sent home from the team's training camp with a leg muscle injury.
Prandelli will use the Poland match and the friendly in Rome against Uruguay four days later to examine his options, and he has said he is considering pairing Alessandro Matri with Giampaolo Pazzini, Mario Balotelli with Pablo Osvaldo, Pazzini with Osvaldo, or involving winger Simone Pepe in a 4-3-3.
"I think this period without competitive matches can be useful to us," Buffon added. "Especially for the coach, to let him make certain experiments.
"I think these friendly matches will be useful in that they will help someone mature and get international experience."
Balotelli is someone who could benefit from Italy's woes. The Manchester City striker has yet to score in five appearances for his country, and knows the time is ripe to stake his claim for a starting place.
"It's time for me to make my mark in the national team," Balotelli said. "I haven't scored yet and the national team is the best thing for a footballer.
"I'm not nervous for this friendly, it's just a football game."
Rossi and Cassano played together in five of Italy's last seven matches, and Cassano led Italy with six goals in qualifying.
Pazzini has been Prandelli's first choice off the bench recently and scored the late goal against Slovenia in September that secured Italy's qualification for the Euros with two matches to spare.
Prandelli once again left Antonio Di Natale out of the squad, even though the Udinese forward led Serie A in scoring the past two seasons with a combined 57 goals and again leads the league with eight goals in 10 matches this season.
Di Natale's last appearance for the national team came under previous coach Marcello Lippi when he scored in a 3-2 loss to Slovakia that eliminated Italy from last year's World Cup in the first round. He has 10 goals in 36 appearances.
Poland coach Franciszek Smuda is likely to field his strongest team against Italy before looking at his options against Hungary Tuesday.
The Euro 2012 co-host has lost just twice in its last 15 matches, to ensure the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain in June 2010 is but a distant memory.
"The most important thing is we keep our level of play, knowing we need to improve for the Euros," Smuda said. "Not much will change between now and the Euros in terms of squad. However, if someone really shines I will obviously call him up."