Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli will take centre stage in attack when a revamped Italy side face Romania in a friendly on Wednesday after Sampdoria’s Antonio Cassano was dropped over a discipline row. Coach Cesare Prandelli said Tuesday that he will give four players their Azzurri debuts in the match in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, including Lazio’s Argentine-born midfielder Cristian Ledesma.
Balotelli, who is famed for his rebellious streak as well as his talents, will pick up his second cap after missing recent internationals through injury, having made his first appearance in Italy’s 1-0 defeat to Ivory Coast in August. The 20-year-old had several run-ins with Jose’ Mourinho at Inter Milan last season and was recently banned for three matches in the Premier League for kicking an opponent after netting a double that gave City a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Nevertheless, Prandelli is confident Balotelli will not let him down on national-team duty. ”Players like him have something extra,” Prandelli told reporters at Italy’s training complex near Florence. ”Off the field 20-year-old lads like him show their weaknesses and fragility, but on the field they are mature. ”I don’t think Mario will be affected by all the attention on him tomorrow. I don’t expect anything else than the good things Balotelli showed 10 days ago in the Premier League”. Balotelli will form a strike partnership with Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi, as Cassano has been overlooked for the moment after an angry row with Sampdoria owner Riccardo Garrone that could end with his contract with the Genoa club being rescinded. ”I want big responses from Rossi and Balotelli,” added Prandelli. ”We want to play with two highly mobile strikers, without a centre forward proper, with midfielders who move between the lines so they find it difficult to mark us”. As well as Ledesma, Genoa centre back Andrea Ranocchia, Palermo full back Federico Balzaretti and Brescia playmaker Alessandro Diamanti will also make their debuts, with Prandelli in part forced to field an experimental side because of injuries.
Midfielder Alberto Aquilani will make his first Italy appearance since February 2009, having returned to Serie A with Juventus after struggling at Liverpool last season following a transfer from AS Roma. Inter Milan full back Davide Santon is back from a long absence too and Bologna’s Emiliano Viviano will be in goal with Gianluigi Buffon still out with a back problem.
Fiorentina’s Romania forward Adrian Mutu is not fit for Wednesday’s match, but Prandelli remains wary. ”Romania are a team to be feared even without Mutu,” he said. ”They play highly organised football, they press you hard when you have possession and they have players with great experience in (top) European leagues. We’ll have to be very careful”. Italy will play Germany in a friendly next February before resuming their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with a visit to Slovenia the following month. The Azzurri are three points clear of second-placed Slovenia in Group C with 10 points from four games after being awarded a 3-0 win for October’s match against Serbia in Genoa, which was abandoned because of hooliganism by Serb fans. Italy team for Romania friendly: Emiliano Viviano (Bologna), Davide Santon (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Andrea Ranocchia (Genoa), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Alberto Aquilani (Juventus), Cristian Ledesma (Lazio), Stefano Mauri (Lazio), Alessandro Diamanti (Brescia), Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal).