Prandelli calls on Italy's young guns
© Getty Images

Preferring evolution to revolution, Cesare Prandelli’s quest to leave his own stamp on Italy’s national team continued over the weekend when he announced his 32-man provisional squad list for UEFA EURO 2012. Alongside the stalwarts, old hands and familiar faces, a number of Italian football’s most promising young talents were delighted to find they had been included.

For all the new names, continuity nonetheless reigned at the back, with Prandelli drawing strength from the experienced defenders who helped Juventus finish the season with Serie A’s most miserly rearguard. Further forward, meanwhile, he opted to retain faith in the often unpredictable Mario Balotelli.

Results and attractive football
Still, if the provisional squad revealed anything, it is that the Azzurri coach has remained true to his philosophy. “We need to have faith in the new generation,” he explained. “They bring us optimism and enthusiasm. My goal is to manage to get results while playing attractive football, but as we’ve only played two matches in the last eight months, we’re going to have to start all over again.”

Prandelli’s list contained seven Juve players in total, but he will be taking none of the Italian champions’ attacking talents to Poland and Ukraine. Instead, four uncapped players will be hoping to get their chance after the coach left out some of the higher-profile forwards at his disposal, leaving the likes of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Matri, Giampaolo Pazzini, Alberto Gilardino, Fabio Quagliarella and Marco Borriello behind to watch the tournament on TV.

“I don’t want static forwards who remain stuck in one part of the pitch,” said Prandelli, discarding several of those players either because they do not fit his profile or because they have struggled for playing time with their clubs. As for Osvaldo, the Roma striker has missed out after picking up a pair of unnecessary red cards since the turn of the year and thus falling foul of Prandelli’s code of ethics.

They’re there because they deserve it and also because I want to make it clear that any player, even a player in Serie B, can be called up.
Cesare Prandelli on choosing Serie B players Marco Veratti and Angelo Ogbonna

Despite that emphasis on discipline, Balotelli has made the cut after collecting his own fair share of unwanted headlines this season, while Daniele de Rossi – in a similarly precarious position – has made amends. “Mario is a talented player who we want to help blossom to his fullest, and we think we can do that during this EURO,” explained Prandelli. “The environment will also help him to focus entirely on the national team.” The former Fiorentina coach is now hoping the Manchester City marksman can generate sparks in an explosive partnership with Antonio Cassano that represents a notable clash of styles.

Italy famously struggled to score goals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and remedying that issue is one of Prandelli’s greatest concerns, which is why he has also called up Antonio di Natale at 34 years of age. The Udinese goal machine has averaged 27 Serie A strikes per season over the last three years and has lost none of his desire to represent his country. “I prefer a player like that to another who might be younger and at his physical peak but who doesn’t feel the same way,” said Prandelli.

Midfield competition
His roll call of midfielders featured 11 names, meanwhile, with regular fixtures such as Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Motta and De Rossi joined by the budding talents of Juve’s Emanuele Giaccherini, Atalanta duo Ezequiel Schelotto and Luca Cigarini, and exciting youngster Marco Verratti of Serie B side Pescara, who is set to sign for I Bianconeri. Between the two ends of the age spectrum, Claudio Marchisio will be keen to come into his own at the EURO after forging a superb understanding with Pirlo for Juventus this term.

Verratti is not the only Serie B tenant included as Torino centre-back Angelo Ogbonna has similarly caught Prandelli’s eye, having already made his Italy debut against Poland last year. “They’re there because they deserve it and also because I want to make it clear that any player, even a player in Serie B, can be called up,” said Prandelli. Elsewhere in defence, the usual suspects are all present, including Juve trio Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, and Rubin Kazan’s Salvatore Bocchetti. Behind them, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is firmly back to his best following an operation.

Prandelli will now set about whittling his provisional squad down to 23 names, which he will announce on 29 May, UEFA’s deadline day. “The nine players left out of the squad are going to feel like victims of an injustice and that’s normal,” he said. “But it will be nothing more than a technical choice.” After that, the Azzurri tactician will look to lift a side positioned 12th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking back to the forefront of the game following their under-par showing at South Africa 2010, though he is reluctant to detail what would constitute an acceptable campaign. “It’s not in my character to fix minimum objectives,” he added. “My idea is to build a side and win the EURO.”