Balotelli to lead Italy attack in Poland

Mario Balotelli will spearhead Italy's attack in their friendly match in Poland on Friday after Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli praised the striker for showing greater maturity.

The Manchester City player, in and out of the team as Italy easily qualified for Euro 2012, was selected by Prandelli along side Inter Milan's Giampaolo Pazzini in a new-look attack.

"Balotelli has an amazing future ahead of him but he mustn't feel the weight of responsibility," Prandelli told reporters on Thursday.

"It doesn't depend on one game for him. He has no need to try to score lots of goals. He seems at ease and on the road to maturity. It's no coincidence that he's doing brilliantly for his club.

"A team, however well organised they are, has need of a player like him, someone who can make the difference in the box."

Italy's new partnership of Balotelli-Pazzini replaces the pint-sized strike force of Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi, whose recent illness and injury setbacks respectively threaten their presence at the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine next June.

Cassano, who underwent surgery last week after the discovery of a heart defect, could be out of the game for six months while Villarreal's Rossi faces a similar period on the sidelines after suffering knee ligament damage last month.

"I wanted to see if the tactical game-plan would work with two bigger forwards," said Prandelli, whose side again features four central midfielders. "Keeping the ball on the ground is key without being forced into kicking the ball long."

AC Milan right-back Ignazio Abate is set to win his first cap while Inter centre-back Andrea Ranocchia has also been named in the provisional starting XI after Juventus' Andrea Barzagli pulled out of the squad on Thursday with a calf injury.

Provisional starting XI announced by Prandelli:

Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus); Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit Saint Petersburg); Riccardo Montolivo, (Fiorentina), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus); Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Giampaolo Pazzini (Inter)


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