Zambrotta homing in on 100 caps
© AFP

Veteran full-back Gianluca Zambrotta has set his sights on reaching 100 Italy caps after being recalled to coach Cesare Prandelli's squad.

The 33-year-old AC Milan stalwart's international career had seemed over after he was overlooked by Prandelli for the coach's first two squads since taking over from Marcello Lippi following Itay's World Cup disaster in South Africa. But ahead of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers against Northern Ireland in Belfast and Serbia in Genoa, Zambrotta, who has 97 caps, has set himself a new target.

"At the World Cup I said that I didn't feel finished. Last Thursday when Prandelli rang me to ask if I was available, I didn't think about any sort of revenge (for being dropped)," he said today from Italy's Coverciano training base. "I simply said yes. I'm not here to take anyone's place, I didn't say I'm returning and expecting to play. But I'm close to 100 appearances and I want to reach it."

Lippi was previously heavily criticised for his over-relience on veteran stars such as Zambrotta who were part of the 2006 FIFA World Cup-winning squad. But Prandelli initially rang the changes and blooded several new faces into the Italy set-up.

I'm not here to take anyone's place, I didn't say I'm returning and expecting to play. But I'm close to 100 appearances and I want to reach it.
Gianluca Zambrotta, Italy defender

He also brought back players like Antonio Cassano from the international wilderness. Cassano missed out on the FIFA World Cup as Lippi refused to pick him for two years, but Zambrotta refuted speculation that it was because of veteran players such as himself that the 28-year-old Cassano, a favourite of Prandelli's, was not offered another chance.

"It wasn't due to us veterans whether or not he went to the World Cup. At the time the question was between him and Lippi," said Zambrotta. "The problems were between the two of them but now he's here and I'm happy for that. It's true that we don't have any world class players but Antonio, (Mario) Balotelli and (Andrea) Pirlo prove that Italian football still has some talent."

While Zambrotta has been recalled, so too has Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri, who had not made a squad for three years. Prandelli described him as the most in-form midfielder in Serie A. "My return is all thanks to Lazio," said the 30-year-old Mauri, who has six caps to his name, of the club whose shirt he has donned since 2006.

"I did well to never give up and to believe in my ability. I always thought I'd be back. It's a great feeling and I hope to stay for a long time. If Prandelli wants, I'll be ready Friday, I've shown I can play in a variety of positions."