Italy call up veteran Zambrotta

MILAN, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's bid to revolutionise his squad has been hit by a dearth of emerging young players and he may be forced to start veteran Gianluca Zambrotta in Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier in Northern Ireland.

The AC Milan full-back, a 33-year-old with 97 caps, played in their World Cup debacle in June and had been overlooked by new coach Prandelli until injuries let him back in for the trip to Belfast and Tuesday's home game with Serbia.

"Zambrotta is physically very fit, he can play on the right or the left," Prandelli, whose side top Group C with six points from six, told reporters.

"At the moment there aren't any interesting young players so instead of calling up someone of 28 or 30 it makes more sense to pick someone with great experience.

"I don't see any really young players who are good enough to be here right now. I hope in five or six months the Serie A championship will present me with some."

Italy's group stage exit in South Africa as holders led to much soul-searching and prompted the football federation to appoint former great Roberto Baggio as technical director and put Arrigo Sacchi in charge of the youth system.


Their reforms will take time given that Serie A teams rarely promote players under 25 into their first team, meaning Prandelli has his hands tied for now.

Fit-again left-back Domenico Criscito is back despite a poor World Cup while Prandelli has broken his own "28 or 30" rule by recalling 30-year-old Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri and naming 28-year-old team-mate Sergio Floccari for the first time.

Prandelli is also handicapped for the awkward trip to Windsor Park by the absence of injured Mario Balotelli, so he may have to shift to a diamond midfield and two up front despite preferring three forwards.

Antonio Cassano, inspirational in the wins over Estonia and Faroe Islands, could play at the head of the diamond behind two strikers or as a wide forward with Simone Pepe or Giuseppe Rossi on the other flank.

With Juventus strikers Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella dropped and Alberto Gilardino injured, Giampaolo Pazzini looks poised to play as the main striker.

The goalkeeper's spot is wide open with captain Gianluigi Buffon injured but Bologna's Emiliano Viviano looks favourite.

Northern Ireland, who surprisingly won in Slovenia, have Celtic's Niall McGinn and Pat McCourt back although the latter has a shoulder problem.

Third-choice goalkeeper Alan Blayney of Linfield is the only Irish league player called up with Manchester United defender Jonny Evans their best known figure.