Antonio Cassano vs. Giuseppe Rossi: Who Should Italy Take to Brazil?
Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano are likely fighting for a single spot on Italy's final World Cup roster.
Both were named to the provisional squad two weeks ago by coach Cesare Prandelli. Whichever of the two makes it to Brazil, he will likely take on a role similar to the one Alessandro Del Piero served for Marcello Lippi in 2006—that of the attacking supersub that can give the team a much-needed shot in the arm.
Considering the fact that only one is likely to go to Brazil it is ironic that during qualifying for Euro 2012 they proved that they were very effective playing together. But with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci likely making the roster, space is sure to be limited.
So now the question becomes obvious: Which of the two should go? Let's take a side-by-side look at the two players and see which is the better fit.
If you need a man to beat a defender one-on-one, there may be no one on the provisional roster better than Cassano. He is supremely talented on the ball and can dribble a defender out of his shoes if he needs to.
Apart from his finishing touch he is notable for his ability to provide for his fellow forwards. According to WhoScored.com, Cassano had six assists this season and averaged 2.7 key passes per match. Those numbers are in keeping with the last two seasons with Inter (nine assists, 2.6 key passes per match) and AC Milan (10 assists, 2.8 key passes per match).
His abilities as a provider were on full display against Germany in Euro 2012. His cross—preceded by a wonderful turn that took the ball away from two German defenders—set up Mario Balotelli's opening goal.
His play with Balotelli could be another big factor. They have only played with each other for the six games of Euro 2012, but they had a decent rapport and worked well off each other, with Super Mario setting himself up as a No. 9 while Cassano roamed from sideline to sideline behind him to make plays.
Simply put, Cassano can break a defense down from the front and either finish on his own or set up one of his teammates to do the job.
Cassano will turn 32 by the time the World Cup is over. That's old for your average international, and that could be a major factor in the decision to take him or leave him.
Last year's Confederations Cup gave Cesare Prandelli and his staff first-hand knowledge of what the playing conditions will be like in Brazil. In a word, it will be hot.
Really, really hot.
Prandelli knows that he needs the best athletes he can have on the field for the team to be able to survive for a grueling month-long tournament in Brazil's heat. Cassano is pushing the age where that could become an issue—and conditioning has never been a strong suit of his either.
He's also not always the best of players attitude wise. The word "Cassanata" was created by Fabio Capello for a reason. While he hasn't often been as much of a problem child with the Azzurri as he has with various clubs, he still has a reputation, and he could go off at any time.
Lastly, Cassano hasn't played a national team game since the Euros two years ago. A lot has changed since then. Cesare Prandelli has diversified from his standard 4-3-1-2 formation and there are more wrinkles to the Azzurri's tactics than there were before. Besides Balotelli the forward line has also seen some turnover, and he won't be as familiar with this group as he was two years ago, when he was starting regularly.
Giuseppe Rossi was hands-down one of the best players in Serie A this year. He had scored 14 times by January 5, when a horrific tackle by Livorno's Leandro Rinaudo injured his tender right knee and cost him three months of season. But make no mistake, had he played the entire year the title of capocannoniere would have been his—and the number could have been quite high indeed.
Even after he returned he scored a pair of goals to take his tally to 16 on the year.
Rossi is one of the most skilled overall forwards the team can call on. He can play all over the forward line and drop deep to get involved in buildup play. Since starting this season with Fiorentina he has been an absolutely lethal finisher. The two goals scored since his comeback prove that his recent fitness problems haven't changed that.
A proven European scorer who netted 32 goals in all competitions in 2010-11 for Villarreal, Rossi has all the skills to make a huge impact on the World Cup.
Rossi's injury history can't be denied. He lost the better part of two seasons to the right ACL injury he suffered in October of 2011, when he played for Villarreal. The injury he suffered at the hands of Rinaudo was to the same knee, albeit to a much lesser degree.
Rossi's initial knee injury was made worse when he rushed back in 2012, both to get to Euro 2012 and to help his club battle relegation. The result was predictable—he tore the ligament again and lost even more time. He took this rehab slower but a brittle knee is always a red flag, especially when defenders will be flinging themselves to the ground to gain the ball from him.
His injury has also led to a lack of match fitness. Since the Livorno game he has only played four times for a total of 140 minutes. The World Cup, it can be argued, is no place for rust.
So who goes and who stays?
If it were this writer making the decision, it would come down to the conditions in Brazil and who would be able to handle them. In that, Rossi is a clear winner.
His lack of match time since his injury may be a concern to some, but he is younger and fitter in general than Cassano and his likely role in Brazil wouldn't require him to play huge minutes anyway. It also certainly hasn't seemed to blunt his goalscoring efforts, seeing as how he's scored a pair since returning.
Cassano had a good season this year, but even when his injury is factored in, Rossi just had a better one—and is the better player. Rossi—whose absence at the World Cup four years ago was sorely felt—should be the one on the plane.