Cassano back as Italy lynchpin

MILAN - For so long seen as the bad boy of Italian football, Antonio Cassano came of age in Italy's opening Euro 2012 qualifying win over Estonia and he will again be their focal point for Tuesday's game with the Faroe Islands.

The Sampdoria forward, whose was as famous for his outbursts and immature antics as he was for his football in his early career, has calmed down significantly in recent times and at 28 is now making a difference for his country.

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Former Italy coach Marcello Lippi was slammed by the media for ignoring him for two years but new boss Cesare Prandelli immediately restored Cassano after June's World Cup debacle.

Cassano's headed goal and an instinctive backheel to set up Leonardo Bonucci for the winner helped Italy fight back from a goal down to defeat Estonia in their Group C opener on Friday.

"I would sign up to have him always display the same willingness he showed as well as the goals and assists," Prandelli told reporters.

"Up to now he has behaved wonderfully with the national team. He understands the errors of the past. Only a while ago football was fantasy to him, now he feels responsible."

Cassano had a back problem before the game in Tallinn but that was never going to stop him.

A quiet first half where he drifted too far to the left wing as part of Prandelli's three-pronged attack, with Giampaolo Pazzini and Simone Pepe, also threatened to undermine his performance before a startling second period.

ROSSI DOUBTFUL

Prandelli said he would like to play Cassano behind front man Pazzini, just like the pair do for Samp, but that the lack of wingers in Italian football means a 4-3-3 is more useful than a 4-4-2 formation.

Pepe struggled against Estonia but could keep his place in the qualifier against the Faroes with rival Giuseppe Rossi doubtful after suffering an ankle problem in training.

The ghosts of South Africa, where holders Italy went out in the group stage, have a long way to go before they are exorcised with the defence of dead balls still a problem for the Azzurri and vulnerable stand-in goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

Unheralded Faroe Islands, who were unlucky to lose to Estonia before going down 3-0 at home to Serbia on Friday, will pose less of a threat and may give Prandelli's much-changed and inexperienced squad the chance to better gel on Tuesday.

Prandelli's first home match in charge will be extra special for the 53-year-old given the game is being played in Florence, where he guided Fiorentina to modest success over the past five years before taking the Italy job.

He expects most fans to be welcoming but a few chants criticising his departure from Fiorentina could occur.

Probable teams:

Italy: Salvatore Sirigu; Lorenzo De Silvestri, Leonardo Bonucci, Girgio Chiellini, Cristian Molinaro; Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo; Antonio Cassano, Simone Pepe, Giampaolo Pazzini

Faroe Islands: Gunnar Nielsen; Christian Mouritsen, Hendrik Rubeksen, Johan Davidsen, Atli Gregersen; Jonas Tor Naes, Frodji Benjaminsen, Jan Ingi Petersen, Christian Holst; Simun Samuelsen, Joan Edmundsson

Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov (Belarus)

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