Two days away from the match against Montenegro, the composition of the Azzurri midfield still raises some questions: can De Rossi and Gattuso recuperate on time? Meanwhile, the vet (Zambrotta) and the rookie (Chiellini, although Euro 2008 pretty much catapulted him to 90%-vet status) share their views on the match to come.
The Injury Ward: DDR & Ringhio
Doubts surrounding the Italian national team gravitate essentially around their midfielders. In theory, there should only be one question mark for manager Marcello Lippi: which one player among Montolivo, Aquilani, Perrotta, and Nocerino gets a starting spot Wednesday? In practice, the injuries of Daniele De Rossi & Gennaro Gattuso will have to further evaluated tomorrow, with both players very motivated to be there.
KwSport is quite optimistic in that regard, assuring Azzurri fans that both players (plus G.Rossi, who also picked up a slight knock) will be fully operational for Wednesday. Gazzetta adopts a gloomier tone, carefully analyzing the situation.
DE ROSSI – According to the pink newspaper, the Giallorosso’s thigh injury (picked up during the match vs. Bulgaria) is the most worrisome. The good news: it’s a contusion, not a muscle strain. In other words, DDR can continue training without risking to aggravate the problem. The bad news: it’s painful, and apparently even more so at rest. Then there’s the factor of Sunday’s upcoming Serie A match: a certain Roma vs. Inter Milan which the the Giallorossi vice-captain probably does not want to miss. Lippi however, must worry about his own team’s problems first: without Andrea Pirlo, DDR is the only player that can effectively occupy the role of playmaker in the Italian team, especially given Montolivo’s not-too-brilliant performance Saturday.
GATTUSO – As usual and as per ‘Ringhio’ standards, the Milan midfielder glowed (and growled) with determination this morning during the practice session. He wants to be there on Wednesday, and beware anyone who tells him otherwise. With a big blue bandage on his right knee, but he’ll be there. Knowing Gattuso, I’d say his presence in the starting eleven is assured at 99%. The remaining 1% will be whether ‘Ringhio’s physical limitations’ agree. Uhm… I think I just wrote an oxymoron.
THE THIRD MAN – So… assuming DDR (the playmaker) and Ringhio (the defensive dam) are healthy, questions remain on the choice for the third midfield player. Tactically-speaking, a role-by-role replacement compared to Saturday’s game would involve Alberto Aquilani stepping in for Riccardo Montolivo. Supporting this choice: Aquilani is more fresh, in better shape, and knows DDR better. Suggesting otherwise: Lippi’s declarations that all the youngsters were above average Saturday. In other words, Montolivo might get a start again. Third and fourth choices: Perrotta (much better off the ball), and Nocerino (a Gattuso clone, the most elected candidate to replace Ringhio should he not be able to make it).
Giorgio and Zambi Speak Up
CHIELLINI – Few would have imagined that one of the nicest surprises of Euro 2008′s disappointment (Italy-speaking at least) would have been the revelation and promotion of Giorgio Chiellini to “untouchable” status. Yet, at 24 years of age, Keyser Giorgio refuses the “youngster” tag and instead uses the opportunity to talk about other fast-emerging talents. “Look at Euro 2008 where so many young players were involved and Spain won the tournament with lads of my age”, said the Juventus center-back. “How are the youngsters settling in? The atmosphere in this squad is similar to the Under-21 team and we’re trying to make them feel at ease. Lippi’s the first to ask that of us.”
Concerning Wednesday’s match, there will be another man-marking mission for Chiellini, as he switches from Dimitar Berbatov to neutralizing Mirko Vucinic. “They are both strikers which mustn’t be given an inch of space. But I’m used to it. Wednesday’s match will be different from Saturday’s, Bulgaria’s technical baggage is superior to Montenegro’s, but we’ll still have to apply ourselves to keep first spot in the standings and continue on our run of positive results. Drawing on Saturday was okay only if we get the three points Wednesday.”
ZAMBROTTA – As for the AC Milan wing-back, the arrival of new faces such as Santacroce, Pepe, Rossi, and Maggio has done nothing to shake Gianluca Zambrotta from his starting spot in the Azzurri squad. At 31 years of age, the ex-Juve player is still running miles up & down the right wing, and the arrival of new recruits can only help him in that mission. “Our coach” he says, “is working on a project whose ultimate objective is to bring us to the 2010 World Cup. There’s plenty of time to insert new talents into our group, and there’s many, starting from those who joined us for this double header against Bulgaria & Montenegro. The important thing is having a strong structure to support these new young elements: our group never fell apart, and us ‘oldies’ want to try winning the World Cup again for sure.”
After the 0-0 draw in Sofia, Italy’s road to South Africa goes through beating Montenegro on Wednesday. “We currenly have 7 points in the standings, that’s not bad. We wanted to win in Sofia, but a draw is still a positive result. Now we will be playing at home, in front of our crowd, and we absolutely want to win. It will be hard, but we got all the tools we need to grab the third win of our qualifying campaign.”