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Where Will the Goals Come From Early On?
With Mario Balotelli reportedly undergoing eye surgery three days before the first qualifying match against Bulgaria, and Antonio Di Natale's international career probably over, half of the four forwards that saw playing time at Euro 2012 probably won't be playing in the first two matches next week.
That leaves only newly minted Inter man Antonio Cassano and Juve returnee Sebastian Giovinco to lead a set of what will probably be largely inexperienced strikers.
Cassano is surprisingly not on the roster for the first two matches, but he should take part in qualifying at some point. Prandelli is probably giving him a rest against lesser competition at this point in the tournament.
The Atomic Ant struggled in two appearances at Euro 2012 but scored a brace in Juve's 4-1 victory Sunday at Udinese after originally being ruled out of the match with an ankle injury. Italy was unsure whether he'd be cleared to play in the first set of qualifiers, but he is now a likely starter.
Giampaolo Pazzini's recent hat trick for Milan against Bologna has earned him a spot on the roster. He's the only striker on the roster for the first two qualifiers that has scored a goal as a senior international, and despite that hat trick, he is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a professional.
On the bright side, the availability issues may give Prandelli the chance to give promising younger strikers like Fabio Borini (one cap), Mattia Destro (a debutant against England in Bern), Pablo Osvaldo (2 caps) and even Lorenzo Insigne (yet to debut) meaningful minutes.
Italy has had a habit the last few years of dominating possession and creating good chances but being unable to find a scoring edge. Friendly losses against Ireland, Uruguay, and the United States have all been examples of the Azzurri outplaying their opponents but being unable to find victory.
It's a trend that continued somewhat in the Euros—particularly in the quarterfinal, where Italy absolutely dominated the English but was unable to put the ball into the net and was forced into a shootout. They simply have to start scoring.
The good news is that this momentary dearth of experienced forwards comes at a time when the team is slated to face Bulgaria and Malta.
Will Domenico Criscito Return?
The controversy surrounding Zenit St. Petersburg left-back Domenico Criscito seems to have subsided. The recent proceedings by FIGC concerning the calcioscommesse scandal omitted his name entirely, while international teammate Bonucci—whose inclusion on the team was questioned as he had also been mentioned in connection with the scandal—was acquitted of all charges.
Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri, also in the news at the same time this past summer, was also absent from the FIGC proceedings and is playing for Lazio this season.
The loss of Criscito at Euro 2012 was softened by the sudden emergence of Federico Balzaretti, but the Roma man is 30 years old, and Criscito is well on his way to becoming the best player in the world at his position. If Criscito has avoided any sanctions, it would be the highest folly not to play him.
How Does Diamanti Factor?
Alessandro Diamanti made a huge case for himself to be consistently involved in the national picture after turning in some impressive performances at Euro 2012 and in the August friendly, when he assisted Italy's goal. The problem is where to put him. He often plays as a forward on the club level with Bologna, but he's more naturally a midfielder.
This presents a problem considering the fact that the Italian midfield is fairly crowded with Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and De Rossi. It may turn out that Diamanti becomes an intermediary between Pirlo and Marco Veratti while the younger player matures a bit more.
The roster for the first two matches has omitted both Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta, so Diamanti may start in the spot usually occupied by those two mainstays, but the roster will likely be different against top competition instead of the likes of Bulgaria and Malta.