5 Surprise Omissions from the Italy World Cup Squad
There was always going to be disappointments when Cesare Prandelli announced his provisional 30-man squad for this summer's World Cup. Italy might not be as highly regarded as Spain or Brazil, but the Azzurri aren't short on talent and the coach has called up a wide selection of players over the course of the qualification campaign.
Some of the names left out were surprising, however, and there'll be plenty of debate about the canniness of Prandelli's choices in the build-up to Brazil.
Speaking after the announcement (here in English via football-italia.net), Prandelli's keeper and captain, Gigi Buffon, defended the selections and thanked all those players who've been involved. He said:
In the last four years we built something important that brought many fans back to the Nazionale and increased our sense of belonging.
Italy are never the favourites going into a major tournament, but history teaches us that as underdogs Italy have always been able to find their role as a protagonist. We always want to amaze and this year is no different.
Prandelli has created an ideal mix, so I think the call-ups are right and deserved. The Coach looked at the Serie A performances to find the 30 names. We’ll see if this mix proves to be a winning one, but it’s only normal when there are some who are unhappy after such a large group of talents is cut down to just 30.
I take this opportunity to send thanks to all the lads who aren’t here and proved themselves to be great men during their time with the Azzurri.
We look at five of the most controversial omissions.
Alberto Gilardino is probably the player left out who most deserved to be included. The Genoa striker has 19 goals in 57 games for the Azzurri, and this season he enjoyed fine form with the Grifone, establishing himself as a regular in the staring XI and contributing 15 goals in 36 appearances.
Several players have come out to support the 31-year-old, including his club teammate Luca Antonini, who tweeted: “You don’t have the necessary requisites for this Nazionale: too ethically correct, too many appearances, too many goals, too talented! Sorry, friend.”
Gilardino isn't a world beater, but he is a proven goalscorer, he's popular with the other players and he's got enough experience to make him a safe Plan B for Prandelli, if or when Mario Balotelli decides to lose the plot in Brazil.
The problem for the coach was obviously who to drop from Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Mattia Destro (Roma), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) and Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina).
Rossi is an injury concern, but his brilliance is worth taking a risk on. Insigne hasn't always started for Napoli this term, but he remains a clear focal point for the Azzurri in the future. Destro has had injury problems, but he is similarly gifted and part of the long-term plan. Cerci and Immobile have both been brilliant for Torino, and Cassano on his current form is probably Italy's most naturally gifted player.
If Gilardino is the most unexpected, then surely Domenico Criscito's exclusion is the most cruel.
The Zenit St. Petersburg left-back has already been left behind before for a major tournament—when he missed out on Euro 2012 after being wrongly accused of match fixing. Then, Prandelli left the 27-year-old behind because he feared that the pressure of being under such scrutiny would be too much for him to bear, but this time around Criscito will have fancied his chances.
Not only has he been in recent Italy squads, he's a regular for a competitive team that plays Champions League football, and left-back is perhaps Italy's weakest position. Leaving behind a striker from those included would be a hard task to make room for Gilardino, but a quick look at the defenders called up and there's at least one obvious name—Inter's Andrea Ranocchia—that could be scrubbed off without worry.
He's only 19, but Domenico Berardi's been one of the league's most exciting players this term and certainly deserved a place as much as Insigne.
Playing for Sassuolo, he managed to score two hat-tricks, one of only a handful of players in Europe to do so. One of those was actually a poker, in the Neroverdi's memorable 4-3 win over Milan back in January. That day, he became the youngest player since the great Silvio Piola to score four in a single game. And to prove it was no fluke, he put three past Fiorentina and provided the assist for the fourth in his side's away win in Florence.
Roma's Alessandro Florenzi would have been an interesting inclusion for Prandelli. The 23-year-old's energy and versatility have been used to good effect by Rudi Garcia this season, and his six goals and seven assists have tended to come at crucial times for the Giallorossi.
As an impact sub, then, Florenzi could have offered plenty of industry and pace in Brazil. Like Gilardino, the Roman has lost out to more established names. He's young, and can look forward to more World Cups in the future, but being left at home is still going to be a huge disappointment to a player's who's become a firm fan favourite at the Olimpico in recent seasons.
The Golden Oldies
Francesco Totti and Luca Toni were always long shots for inclusion, but the Roma captain and Verona star are popular figures in Italy and there were more than a few fans rooting for them to make it to Brazil.
Age aside, both made compelling cases. Toni managed to bag 20 goals this season—for a side just promoted from Serie B. He also provided seven assists, making him one of Serie A's most lethal marksmen. Totti plays in a deeper role for Roma these days, but he still managed eight goals and 10 assists, on top of his incredible creative contribution to almost everything that the Lupi do. And even though he's six years older, he's at least as fit and nimble as Antonio Cassano, who has a famously relaxed approached to personal training.
It would be harsh to demand that youth make way for two players who've both had long, successful careers, but seeing the veteran pair line out one more time for the Azzurri, when they're both in fine form, would have been an enticing prospect.