5 Players Italy Should Axe Ahead of Euro 2016 Qualification
The formula for Italy was never really known. Coach Cesare Prandelli rolled out different formations in advance of the World Cup, and he brought over a group of players both experienced and fresh to the international scene.
That Serie A's leading scorer, Ciro Immobile, only made his second start for the Azzurri in Brazil was evidence enough of a team in transition. (He played just 88 minutes in the tournament.)
There are certainly players who should not return to the Italian national team because of their performance; some because of their age. Andrea Pirlo long stated that he would retire after the World Cup, but he recently offered himself to the next coach.
"If the new national coach thinks he needs me," said Pirlo (h/t The Guardian), "I will happily remain available." So decisions can change.
Here are five players that Italy should resist calling up, either to prepare for the future or save themselves heartaches and headaches.
Mario Balotelli took the brunt of the criticism from the Italian press when the Azzurri crashed out of the World Cup. Some of it was fair, some of it was far too excessive. Balotelli did not receive much service, but he also did not do much of consequence on the field.
And in what was essentially an elimination game against Uruguay, he picked up a yellow card and could have earned himself a red. He was reckless and selfish, and he did not take responsibility for his actions, instead choosing to chastise his critics in a scathing message online.
He does not show the restraint required of a national team player, and he needs a few months out to concentrate on his club football and to get back to scoring goals.
Antonio Cassano barely played in the only World Cup in which he will ever play. He was slow when he did trot on the field, and he did not offer any creativity. Cassano wasted much of his promising career, and, frankly, he is not always in good enough shape.
Gianluigi Buffon made few mistakes in this World Cup. He did hesitate on the Costa Rica goal scored by Bryan Ruiz, but he also made crucial saves against Uruguay. The game could have been over way earlier if not for his work. So he can play, but we have to move on.
As the captain, Buffon almost deserves to choose when to retire. But perhaps the next coach should usher in Salvatore Sirigu, the back-up 'keeper who performed with immediate confidence in Italy's single win of the tournament against England. At some point, Italy have to give the next generation a chance to start games. And Buffon is only in Sirigu's way.
Pirlo showed the world how to do a dummy, and he didn't cramp up in Manuas while some of the younger English players were struggling. But a 21-year-old in this squad can play with ease as well, and he is Marco Verratti.
Verratti is Pirlo's heir, even if he's not exactly like for like. Against Uruguay, it was Verratti running back to defend and tackle, and he was dictating the match. This is another decision made with the future in mind, and Pirlo was set to retire anyway. Calling him up would look almost desperate.
With Ignazio Abate, it's simple: he's not good enough. He cannot cross the ball, and while he can run like hell, he doesn't offer enough offensively for a full-back.
Defensiviely he is solid, but he is an incomplete player, and other full-backs like Domenico Criscito and Christian Maggio offer more.