Criscito inclusion placates Italy sceptics

MILAN - The surprise exclusion of Fabio Grosso from Italy's World Cup party has propelled left-back Domenico Criscito into the limelight and placated critics demanding more youth in the Azzurri team.

Coach Marcello Lippi had been slammed by sections of the media for relying too heavily on his ageing 2006 World Cup winners in a lacklustre qualification campaign.

This month's decision to jettison out-of-form Juventus defender Grosso, who scored the decisive penalty in the Germany final four years ago, was a sudden change of strategy from Lippi and Criscito is happy with the blend.

"There is the right mix in the squad. You have the world champions and many young players," the Genoa man told Reuters.

"We are a great group. We are going to South Africa to reconquer the title, we are all very excited about it."

The fresh-faced 23-year-old looks just out of school with his shy smile, soft voice and boyish blonde hair.

He has managed five caps since making his debut in August 2009 and is among a number of young players recently drafted into Lippi's plans alongside club team mate Salvatore Bocchetti.

Central defender Bocchetti could be Criscito's biggest threat for a starting place in the Group F opener against Paraguay in Cape Town on June 14 given he too is left footed and Lippi has hinted at a shift from a back four to a back three.

Criscito though also played centre back in a tough short spell at Juventus in 2007 before returning to previous club Genoa, who are one of Serie A's most expansive teams and let him roam forward whenever he can.

World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta usually plays right back but can operate on the left, leaving Lippi mulling his options ahead of the deadline for his 23-man squad on June 1 and friendlies against Mexico on June 3 and Switzerland on June 5.

Criscito is part of a training squad now doing altitude training in the Italian Alps but only injury can halt him now.

"I'm hoping 100 percent to be there. It will be an amazing emotion to be at a World Cup as a young player, I've always been hopeful," he said, his rare Italian blue eyes sparkling.

He sounded genuinely sorry for Grosso but will now seize his chance and thinks Italy can surprise again too with New Zealand and Slovakia also in an easy-looking group.

"Grosso is a great player even if Juventus have not been doing well but I've just been working hard, pushing to be in the squad and I hope the coach can reward me," he said.

"Italy have never been favourites. We weren't favourites four years ago but we did a great World Cup. We are hopeful."

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