Giuseppe Rossi (No. 49) is checked on by Fiorentina trainers and Livorno's Leandro Greco.
The cruelty of Giuseppe Rossi's knee injury on January 6 is not lost on anyone. The Italy international had missed two seasons with injuries to the ACL in his right knee before starting the season like gangbusters at Fiorentina, scoring 14 times in 18 games and earning a call back to the national team.
That made it all the more heartbreaking to watch Rossi writhing on the ground after a terrible tackle by Livorno's Leandro Rinaudo, clutching that right knee.
Fortunately, Rossi did not tear the ACL again, although doctors did identify a "stress" on the previously repaired ligament.
Recent news has been encouraging. Ben Gladwell of ESPN FC reported this week that Rossi could potentially return to the team before the end of April.
That would mean that he would be ready in plenty of time for the World Cup in June. Italy manager Cesare Prandelli was quoted by Gladwell a week after his injury that he would "wait for him right to the very end."
Even with the optimistic timetable that was revealed this week, there is still a possibility that Rossi will miss FIFA's showpiece in Brazil. He was in a similar situation two years ago after his first injury, when he rushed himself to be ready for Euro 2012 and reinjured his knee in training.
Rossi has certainly learned the lesson of that, but all the same it would behoove Prandelli to start thinking about alternatives if the worst comes to pass.
Here are six players who could take Rossi's place in the Italian roster if he isn't available to partner with Mario Balotelli.
Berardi is a long shot to start but could make the team.
Nineteen-year-old Domenico Berardi is a long shot to be a starter on Prandelli's team, but the youngster is making a serious push to be included in the World Cup squad.
Berardi has scored 12 times this season, good for joint-third with Torino's Ciro Immobile and Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain. That number includes a hat-trick against Sampdoria and a virtuoso four-goal performance against AC Milan.
Berardi is proficient on either wing or as a central striker, and his breakout year is turning a bunch of heads. Prandelli is known to use friendlies to experiment and give young players a chance to break into the squad. The March 5 friendly against Spain at the Stadio Vicente Calderon could give Prandelli the chance to run the youngster out in a blue shirt and see how he handles international competition.
That game is the only one on Italy's schedule between now and May 13, the date that the provisional rosters need to be submitted to FIFA. If Berardi is called up and impresses, he could get himself on that 30-man list. A May 26 friendly against Colombia in Bogota would then be his last game to impress before the June 2 deadline for 23-man rosters to be submitted to FIFA.
Berardi's breakout season has been impressive, and Prandelli has a history of rewarding such campaigns (see: El Shaarawy, Stephan). Should Rossi fail to be ready, a place in Brazil may be his for the taking.
Immobile (No. 9) tied the U21 Euro final in the 10th minute before Spain pulled away.
Club: Torino (co-owned with Juventus)
Caps: 0 (14 caps, 10 goals at U21 level)
Ciro Immobile was the primary striker for Italy's run to the final of the U21 European Championships. He scored an equalizing goal in the final after 10 minutes before the Spaniards unzipped the Italian defenses for three more goals and cruised to a 4-2 victory.
Two years removed from leading Serie B with 28 goals, Immobile has finally made good on the promise he showed under Zdenek Zeman at Pescara.
This season Immobile is tied for third in the league with 12 strikes and has combined well with Alessio Cerci. Together the two have the Granata in seventh place and within striking distance for a spot in the Europa League next season.
He is getting hot at exactly the right time, scoring seven times in his last seven matches. Immobile is probably another candidate for a look-see at the Vicente Calderon on March 5, when Prandelli can decide if he wants to include him on the provisional roster and bring him to Coverciano for a longer look.
The 2006 final was Francesco Totti's last international match.
Caps (Goals): 58 (9)
Francesco Totti hasn't played an international match since the 2006 World Cup final against France. Injuries and dissatisfaction with media scrutiny caused him to officially retire from international competition a year after the Azzurri's triumph in Berlin.
But Totti's incredible form this season under Rudi Garcia has given Cesare Prandelli cause to consider him as an option for Brazil.
Prandelli has had success with moves like this in the past. Two summers ago he brought another older forward—Antonio Di Natale—to Euro 2012 even though he had taken no part in qualifying. Toto validated him by scoring Italy's goal in the 1-1 group-opening draw against Spain and generally playing well.
The big difference in that example, of course, is the time frame.
Di Natale hadn't participated in qualifying for the Euros two seasons ago, but he had been on the roster for the 2010 World Cup and scored a goal in the ill-fated group-stage finale against Slovakia. Totti, on the other hand, hasn't played an international match in eight years.
His numbers this year are impressive—five goals and seven assists playing almost as a false nine in Garcia's 4-3-3. The debate on his participation is still going on.
Before the draw for the tournament, several of his teammates from the 2006 team voiced doubt. Ben Gladwell of ESPN FC quoted Gennaro Gattuso as saying he'd "struggle physically to cope with a tournament like the one in Brazil." In the same article Fabio Cannavaro voiced concern over the pressure Totti would be under.
While the latter point of view doesn't carry much weight, Gattuso may be on to something.
If the Confederations Cup showed Prandelli one thing, it was that the conditions in Brazil are going to make this tournament more physically grueling than average. The fact that Italy must play a group game in the Amazon cauldron that is Manaus adds to the demands. Can a 37-year-old body handle that kind of punishment?
It will all have to be taken into consideration, but if Rossi is not able to make the tournament it may open the door for Prandelli to take one of the greatest players in Italy's history to a last World Cup.
Gilardino was unimpressive at the Confederations Cup but is a Prandelli favorite.
Caps (Goals): 57 (19)
Alberto Gilardino started in the semifinal and third-place game of this summer's Confederations Cup after Mario Balotelli was sent home with an injury.
He failed miserably.
Immobile and lacking any edge, he managed just 18 touches in 90 minutes of the semifinal against Spain. While two of them led to key passes, he managed only a single shot—and failed to find the target. He managed 10 more touches in 120 minutes against Uruguay in the third-place game but again failed to find the target with his only shot of the match. It was a dismal performance.
In spite of this, Gilardino has managed to keep his spot on the national team, largely because he is a favorite of Prandelli from their days together at Fiorentina.
He did manage a goal against Bulgaria in September's World Cup qualifiers in the stead of a suspended Balotelli and has scored nine times this season—as many as Super Mario.
Still, he is far from an ideal starting XI player in the Italian setup.
Prandelli's affinity for him will likely get him a place in his third World Cup. If he does go he would be one of four members of the presumed squad—along with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi—to remain from the victorious 2006 squad. That experience could be valuable, but he shouldn't be more than a sub if he does go to Brazil.
Alessio Cerci only saw the field once for Prandelli at the Confederations Cup.
Two years ago it looked like Alessio Cerci would be consigned to the land of wasted potential. That was before he was purchased from Fiorentina on co-ownership by Torino and reunited with his old coach Giampiero Ventura.
Under Ventura he's rediscovered the magic that led to such high regard in his youth. Last season he scored eight times and added 12 assists—only two fewer than league leader Marek Hamsik. This year he has taken well to moving from the wing to a second striker position, where he has effectively partnered with Ciro Immobile and notched 10 goals and seven assists.
Cerci went to Brazil with the Azzurri to the Confederations Cup, so he's a known quantity with Prandelli. The ease with which he took to the seconda punta role at Torino this year could give him a leg up on a roster spot, seeing as how that's the best way to deploy Rossi alongside Balotelli.
On the outs at Southampton, a move to Juve could help Osvaldo book a roster spot.
Club: Juventus (on loan from Southampton)
Caps (Goals): 13 (4)
Pablo Daniel Osvaldo has had a rough go of it this year. His dust-up with Aurelio Andreazzoli after the Coppa Italia final saw him left off the Confederations Cup squad despite leading Roma with 16 goals.
The incident with Andreazzoli led to a sale to Southampton, who broke their club record to gain his services. The road was bumpy. The FA suspended him for three games after a sideline scuffle against Newcastle in November, and the team suspended him for two weeks a month later after a training ground fight with teammate Jose Fonte. In 13 games he scored only three times.
After his fight with Fonte he was sent on loan to Juventus, which may end up being a fantastic move for him.
The Bianconeri were looking for depth in front with the Europa League looming next month, and Osvaldo is perfect for them to use as a Thursday striker while giving first-choice pair Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente some rest time.
If he can perform well in that role and deputize effectively in the league on the weekends, he could remind Prandelli why he has so often been looked on as the squad's "vice Balotelli" in recent times. He just has to make sure he keeps his head and doesn't run afoul of Prandelli's strict policy of personal conduct.