Italy coach Marcelo Lippi will give young Inter Milan defender Davide Santon his senior international debut against Northern Ireland tomorrow night after admitting to being impressed with him in training.

The 18-year-old has made a phenomenal rise from Inter's youth team to become one of their first-team mainstays this season, convincing Lippi to take a closer look at him. And the FIFA World Cup™-winning coach is more than impressed with what he has seen.

"I had said that he was predestined (to be an international) and now that I have seen him in real life, I can confirm that is exactly how it is," he said. "Santon is only a lad, yet he has a great personality, plays the game easily and has the capacity of fitting in."

Should Santon play at the Arena Garibaldi, he will become the third-youngest ever to wear the Azzurri colours, following Renzo de Vecchi, who made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1910, and Giuseppe Bergomi in the modern era.

Santon is only a lad, yet he has a great personality, plays the game easily and has the capacity of fitting in.

Marcello Lippi

Bergomi made his debut in 1982 as an 18-year-old, when he was less than two months younger than Santon. Indeed, inexperience prevails in Lippi's side with only two members of his FIFA World Cup-winning squad due to start tomorrow, Fabio Grosso and Gennaro Gattuso.

Gattuso is making his return after five months out injured and should partner Fiorentina's Riccardo Montolivo at the heart of the Italy midfield. Cagliari's Federico Marchetti is set to make his debut in goal.

Giuseppe Mascara, Giuseppe Rossi and Giampaolo Pazzini are the preferred choices in attack while Sergio Pellissier may therefore have to wait before making his debut. Finally, Nicola Legrottaglie should partner Alessandro Gamberini in the heart of the defence.

While one eye will be on this game against Northern Ireland, the other will the Republic of Ireland who could leap above Italy at the top of their qualifying group with a victory over Bulgaria.

"If Ireland win, then they go to the top of the group having played one game more than us," said Lippi. "If Bulgaria win, then they are back in the race, but they still have to come to play us at our own home. We will have to wait and see."

The last time Italy lost against Northern Ireland was in 1958, over 51 years ago. They won their last encounter six years ago, with goals from Bernardo Corradi and Marco Delvecchio sealing a 2-0 win in Campobasso in what was also a largely experimental side.