World champions Italy, having managed just one goal in their opening two Group C matches, could turn to a wild card in Zurich on Tuesday in the shape of Antonio Cassano as they try to see off France to reach the Euro 2008 quarters.
Despite the innate caution of the Azzurri, they had appeared to be well-stocked in attack with Toni having hit the target 39 times across the season, Alessandro Del Piero scoring 21 goals and Marco Borriello 19.
But after a 3-0 Dutch drubbing and a 1-1 draw with Romania which saw defender Christian Panucci score their goal, coach Roberto Donadoni needs to consider his options with his usual striking contingent firing blanks so far.
Toni would appear to be un-oustable for now but Del Piero was disappointing against the Romanians while Borriello has won just two caps – and in friendlies at that.
Donadoni knows that Sampdoria's Cassano has golden feet but he is not always the clearest-thinking individual and has a difficult temperament, as Real Madrid found out during an ill-fated spell with them under unimpressed disciplinarian Fabio Capello.
Yet he has great technique and is a brave and inventive striker who, with his temper better under control, would easily have claimed major honours and won 50 caps by now instead of a dozen.
The 25-year-old from the southeastern port city of Bari has netted three times in his 13 outings to date but has spent much of his time falling out with coaches and team mates alike, sometimes violently so.
He appears to have mellowed somewhat at Sampdoria, although when he goes missing through suspension the Italian press now dub it a “cassanata”.
Insulting a referee, for example, earned him a five-match ban.
Yet his league goal tally hit double figures and so he bagged a place on the Euro squad.
And he is just the kind of unpredictable element who could save the Italians in a match they have to win if they are to undo the damage of their two previous games. Cassano could also unhinge a French defence left giddy by the Dutch hammering it received.
“I will not rule out the possibility of playing Cassano,” Donadoni revealed as the Azzurri made their final preparations to renew their rivalry with the French.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini added: “He really wants to do something – he's been really switched on in training. And you have to admit when he came on in the previous games he really made things move.”
Donadoni revealed an exchange he had had with the striker last week.
“He said? 'Do you have confidence in me? I won't let you down.'
“I told him rather than talk he must listen. It's not the time to justify oneself with words but to reflect.”
Cassano will likely think he has had enough time to reflect while previously warming the bench for an hour.
Donadoni will hope that if he does gamble and start him the effervescent striker will bite his tongue and let his goalscoring feet do the talking.
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