Azzurri look to end annus horribilis

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Here is a depressing fact: Italy have not won a game in 2010. There have been World Cup qualifiers, the World Cup finals and a few friendlies in between, but not one measly victory to mention.

The saying goes that Italy don’t do friendlies, preferring to get it right when it really matters, but South Africa held that theory up to ridicule.

Cesare Prandelli begins his reign as Italy coach against Ivory Coast this evening in what would usually be termed a meaningless and un-needed kick-about between players who are nowhere near match-fit, and in some cases still removing the sand from between their toes after their summer holidays.

In the knowledge that most Italians are taking the almost obligatory August break, the Italian Football Federation have switched the match to London and although the welcome will no doubt be warm from the Anglo-Italians, the pressure is very much on the new coach.

Prandelli needs to hold firm in his commitment to launching new generation of players whatever the outcome of the game at Upton Park.

There are ten newcomers in the squad and the average age is now down to a more acceptable 25 years and seven months compared to the near 29 years under Marcello Lippi.

With the scourge of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli joining the rest of the pensioners on the beach these two supposed mavericks have an opportunity to at least put some faith back in a disillusioned public that La Nazionale is worth following once again.

The training footage from the last few days certainly suggests that there is more fizz in this new group than amongst the tired old faces in June.

You would expect Prandelli to be animated in his first days in charge but it is his enthusiasm during every drill that has really caught the eye while most of the sessions have been pretty relaxed affairs just as they were when the 53-year-old was in charge at Fiorentina.

Certainly without the likes of the retired Fabio Cannavaro and Rino Gattuso, not to mention assorted other old-stagers, the new faces can ease their way into the international set-up.

Amauri and Balotelli both have points to prove – the former to win over those who believe the Juventus striker is not up to international class (never mind the fact he’s Brazilian…), while the latter seems to have the world at his feet but doesn’t know what to do with it.

Maybe running out at a Premier League ground will open his eyes to the possibility that he can build a career away from Serie A, which for many players in the past meant that they had little or no chance of receiving a call-up to the Azzurri.

Giuseppe Rossi may have a recent exception to the rule but it would seem that the new regime is open to everyone near and far: Stuttgart’s Cristian Molinaro is a case in point, having failed to get anywhere near a call-up when he was at Juventus, of all places.

Of course, it is taking advantage of these opportunities on the pitch that will be the acid test and in Cassano’s case his third and last strike to leave his mark in the blue shirt.

Significantly, he has grabbed the number ten shirt so hopefully the newly-married and in Prandelli’s words “a more mature” Cassano will play with the sort of freedom he demonstrated through the latter-half of last season.

Amauri or Marco Balotelli leading the attack with Cassano and Balotelli in support would be the ideal way to start a new era - not to mention a victory to finally put an end to what has been an annus horribilis for the former world champions.

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