Prandelli expects no let-up
Italy may have already secured their place in next year's UEFA EURO 2012 finals but coach Cesare Prandelli is demanding no let-up from his side heading into their final two qualifying matches. Gli Azzurri are guaranteed to finish top of Group C as they boast an eight-point lead over nearest challengers Serbia, who they face in their penultimate qualifier in Belgrade on Friday before then completing their campaign four days later against Northern Ireland in Pescara.
With a finals berth already secured Prandelli could have decided to experiment in Italy's last two group games, but the former Roma and Fiorentina boss is looking for continuity and for his team to keep their winning run going. "We have two official games and I want them to be played in the best possible way," said Prandelli, whose side have won their last three matches - including a friendly victory over reigning world and European champions Spain. "I want to give continuity to our performances for the final two qualifiers. I don't want to change tactics."
He added: "I expect a step forward from my players from a mental point of view and for them to show the will to improve. These two games can give us further information about our strengths as well as highlight certain weaknesses."
Prandelli, whose side are unbeaten in qualifying with seven wins in eight games and having conceded only one goal, is expecting a tough encounter on Friday against Serbia. The Serbians are only a point ahead of third-placed Estonia but have played a game fewer and they can secure a play-off berth with a victory against Italy.
The last time the sides met a year ago, the game in Genoa was abandoned due to crowd trouble and Italy were awarded a 3-0 forfeit win. "There's curiosity heading into this game," Prandelli said. "It's going to be a difficult game and my team will have to put in a good performance as for us, getting a result is not the main priority. We don't want to prove that we are first in the pool. We want to prepare for this game as though it was our first in Euro 2012."
Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli could be handed a start against Serbia with Fiorentina striker Alberto Gilardino out injured. "I haven't thought of the line-up yet," Prandelli said. "In the next couple of days we will test a few things and the partnership of Balotelli and (AC Milan forward Antonio) Cassano could be a possibility." Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli could also feature on Friday. The 30-year-old has not played for his country since September 2008.