Prandelli gives youth a chance
Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti will take the starting place of midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo for Italy's friendly against France on Wednesday, coach Cesare Prandelli said.
With Italy and France in strong positions in their respective 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying groups, both sides are expected to give opportunities to their U-21 stars.
Joining Verratti in midfield is Lazio's Antonio Candreva, who scored a ferocious free-kick for Lazio in their 3-2 win over Roma in the Rome derby on Sunday. Gianluigi Buffon will also make way for PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.
Prandelli also confirmed that Mario Balotelli, 22, will start up front alongside AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy, who has just turned 20, with Candreva on the right of the Manchester City striker.
Asked if a younger Italy team was at risk against France, Prandelli said: "We don't have a lot of matches in which the young guys can show us what they've got. And if we don't play them we won't find out their capacity for soaking up the pressure."
Sitting top of Group B with ten points after four of their ten qualifiers, Italy look well placed to qualify for Brazil 2014. But Prandelli's search for the formation that works best in his all new, attack-minded team -- which has replaced their defensive tradition of catenaccio - continues.
France, who have the same points at the top of Group I as group rivals and defending champions Spain, are also in a strong qualifying position and should put Prandelli's players to the test.