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World Cup qualifying preview: Armenia v Italy

Italy head to Armenia for their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday looking to take command of Group B.

Cesare Prandelli has recalled Manchester City firebrand Mario Balotelli, while defender Domenico Criscito is included for the first time since he was omitted from the Euro 2012 squad following his investigation for over alleged match-fixing.

Balotelli was absent from Italy’s 2-2 draw in Bulgaria and 2-0 defeat of Moldova after undergoing eye surgery in September and his mentality has previously been questioned by Prandelli.

“It upset me that he had the operation while there were international games, but I still decided to call him up as he has talent,” Prandelli told Football Italia.

“He must awaken the pride in himself and demonstrate attachment to the jersey for his sake and that of the national side.”

Prandelli insisted the international futures of veteran attackers Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano were not over despite again opting for youth.

The coach showed his willingness to promote his youngsters, with Under-21 stars Stephan El Shaarawy of AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti selected.

Worryingly, the Italians were thoroughly outplayed by Bulgaria in their first fixture but were rescued by Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, who scored twice with his side’s only two shots on target.

Osvaldo, along with team-mate Daniele De Rossi, were dropped by Roma coach Zdenek Zeman on Sunday but could both still start for Italy.

Prandelli has shown his willingness to tweak the system and given his commitment to a pro-youth policy will be pleased if they can register two wins and a draw from their first three fixtures, two of which will have been on the road.

Armenia are third with three points, having defeated Malta, but an away win for Italy would put them firmly in charge.

Fri 12 October, 2012
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