Selfless, versatile and clinical - not to mention blessed with superior technique - late-bloomer Antonio Di Natale is more often than not deployed as a support striker behind one or two centre-forwards.
Di Natale often served as a left-winger and even filled in on the right at the outset of his career, but as the years have gone by he has moved infield and now plays in a position that is equal parts striker and playmaker.
Di Natale’s Serie A debut came while at Empoli in 2002, and soon afterwards he was selected by Giovanni Trapattoni to win his first Italy cap, making the all-important step up against Turkey on 20 November 2002. It took a move to Udinese in 2004/05 to really change the direction of his career, however, and the forward wasted no time in forging a formidable partnership there alongside Vincenzo Iaquinta and David Di Michele. As if to demonstrate the point, the following year he scored in four different competitions: Serie A, the Italian Cup, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup.
Left out of the squad that overcame all-comers at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, Di Natale nonetheless became a key figure for incoming coach Roberto Donadoni, who preferred him in his starting line-up to Alessandro Del Piero. The player repaid Donadoni with an impressive qualifying campaign for UEFA EURO 2008, scoring twice and contributing three assists in eight outings, but his showing in Austria and Switzerland was tarred by a penalty miss in the shoot-out against Spain.
Taking over from Donadoni in the wake of that tournament, Marcello Lippi also saw much to admire in a player who could perform any role in attack, and he recalled him to face Cyprus on 6 September 2008. Di Natale responded in perfect fashion, registering both goals as Italy emerged 2-1 winners.
That high was followed by the low of suffering ligament damage in his left knee against Montenegro on 28 March 2009. That kept the marksman out of action for the next few months, but he returned for the vital 2-2 draw away against the Republic of Ireland in 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying and has not left Lippi's squad since.