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Prandelli keeps young strikers on their toes

Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini are likely to lead the line as unbeaten Italy, with 10 points from four matches, look to extend their three-point advantage over second-placed Slovenia in Group C.

Italy's progress after a woeful World Cup last year under Marcello Lippi has come despite their forward line failing to really fire and Manchester City's combustible striker Mario Balotelli has further tested Prandelli's patience.

Like AS Roma's Daniele De Rossi, Balotelli has been omitted from the squad after falling foul of Prandelli's strict code of conduct by getting a suspension from European club competition for his on-field antics.

"I'm joking but if it was the final match and we needed three points to qualify I'd choose (Francesco) Totti and (Alessandro) Del Piero," Prandelli told reporters.

"If the younger players want to go far in the game they have to learn and have character."

World Cup winners Del Piero, 36, and Totti, 34, have been long deemed too old to play for Italy but the former scored a brilliant winner for Juventus at the weekend when the latter surpassed 200 Serie A goals.

League top scorer Antonio Di Natale, 33, and in-form Marco Di Vaio, 34, have also been overlooked for the national team.


Balotelli, who Prandelli hoped would mature into one of his major players, was widely criticised following yet another petulant dismissal against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League last week.

"I've heard from Balotelli. He understands he made a fool of himself. He said to me: 'I need help. I always ruin everything but I care a lot about the national team'," added Prandelli, who has brought in uncapped midfielder Marco Parolo and defender Davide Santon from Serie A strugglers Cesena.

"We are building a future and that's why I have to count on certain players more than others."

Young centre back Andrea Ranocchia faces a late fitness test before the match.

Slovenia are likely to present a stern test for Italy's inexperienced side.

With two wins and a draw after an opening home defeat by Northern Ireland, they have included five players in their squad plying their trade in Italy including Palermo's midfield duo Armin Bacinovic and Josip Ilicic.

Italy have sent 10 policemen and eight stewards to help with crowd control in Ljubljana after their last group match at home to Serbia was abandoned due to crowd violence in October. Italy were awarded a 3-0 win.