MILAN - Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who can equal the world record of 31 international games without defeat in Wednesday's friendly in Greece, knows only too well that top class footballers who play on the left are rare. The world champions are without injured fullback Gianluca Zambrotta and left winger Antonio Di Natale for the trip to Athens and the options to replace them are scant. Udinese's Di Natale, the key part of Lippi's favoured three-pronged attack, will be badly missed with Vincenzo Iaquinta the most likely to awkwardly fill in on the left. Alessandro Del Piero, 34 and in the form of his life, could have done a job there but Lippi continues to overlook him in favour of blooding younger players for the 2010 World Cup. Across his two stints in charge and a World Cup win, Lippi has equalled 1934 and 1938 World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo's Italy record of 30 straight games without defeat. A result in Greece will better that mark and put Lippi level with former Argentina coach Alfio Basile and ex-Spain boss Javier Clemente at the top of the all-time list. "During such a long unbeaten run we have strung together important wins and constructed a new group, which we are still trying to do now," Lippi said. The left of defence needs reconstruction with inconsistent Fabio Grosso, who scored the winning penalty in the World Cup final win over France two years ago, poised to start. In the absence of Zambrotta, Grosso looks the best bet given out-of-form Andrea Dossena has been dropped by Liverpool lately. DEFENCE WEAKENED Injured goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon and Marco Amelia will also miss the trip along with Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Aquilani. Udinese midfielder Gaetano D'Agostino has been called up for the first time while Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi could get a first start having come on as a substitute in last month's 0-0 draw in Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying Group Eight. Greece coach Otto Rehhagel is without five regulars with the defence weakened by injuries to Giourkas Seitaridis and Sotiris Kyrgiakos. Avraam Papadopoulos may get a chance to make up for his errors in the 2-1 World Cup Group Two qualifying defeat by Switzerland last month although Genoa's Socratis Papastathopoulos may also come into the reckoning. Forwards Angelos Charisteas and Ioannis Amanatidis are out along with Giorgios Samaras, meaning 20-year-old striker Vassilis Koutsianikoulis, called up for the first time following some impressive performances for Ergotelis, could start. Rehhagel may also use Panathinaikos teenager Sotiris Ninis on the right of midfield as he attempts to strengthen his hand ahead of qualifiers against Israel in March and April.
18 November 2008
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