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    Italy

    Italy and Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi boosted his 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ selection hopes after returning to action in the Coppa Italia final. Rossi, who previously missed two years of his career due to injury, ended a four-month injury lay-off when he came on for the final 20 minutes of Fiorentina's 3-1 Cup defeat to Napoli at Rome's Olympic Stadium.

    He will now battle to regain full fitness in the final Serie A games of the season in the hope of making Cesare Prandelli's 23-man squad for the World Cup in June. "I feel good, very happy to have returned but obviously disappointed with the result," Rossi told AFP.

    Rossi had little time to impress Prandelli, who was in the stadium, but had club coach Vincenzo Montella purring after the game. "He's doing well. He's lacking some rhythm but I saw him going in for tackles and that's a sign that he has no fear," said Montella.

    Having made his return for Fiorentina at the start of the season following a lengthy period on the sidelines, Rossi raced into the lead of the Serie A scoring charts, netting 14 times in just 18 games, before his progress was stopped when he suffered a knee injury on 5 January. He is one of several strikers, including Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile, hoping to partner striker Mario Balotelli in Brazil.

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    Rossi, Immobile make Italy provisional squad

    Giuseppe Rossi has capped his comeback from a right knee problem with a recall to Italy's national squad ahead of the FIFA World Cup™.

    The Fiorentina striker was included in Cesare Prandelli's 30-man preliminary group. Rossi damaged ligaments in his right knee in January and missed four months before recently playing again.

    Torino forward Ciro Immobile has been included by Prandelli after a superb campaign. The 24-year-old is the Italian Serie A's top scorer with 22 goals this term and made his first appearance for the Azzurri in an international friendly against Spain in March.

    AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli joins Rossi and Immobile in the squad. Balotelli, who was Italy's leading scorer in qualifying with five goals, has faced criticism after some of his performances this season. The former Manchester City player has scored 14 times in 29 Serie A appearances but that has not been enough to help Milan qualify for Europe next season.

    Roma's leading marksman Mattia Destro and Parma's veteran striker Antonio Cassano are also included in the roster. The 31-year-old Cassano has yet to play in a World Cup finals, but was part of Prandelli's squad for UEFA EURO 2012 when Italy reached the final. Cassano has scored 12 goals and come up with five assists to help Parma remain in contention for European football next season.

    Genoa striker Alberto Gilardino, who was a member of Italy's World Cup-winning squad in 2006, has not been included. Italy will begin training in their headquarters in Coverciano, Florence, on 19 May.

    The Azzurri take on Republic of Ireland in a friendly in London on 31 May and will play their last warm-up game against Luxembourg on 4 June in Perugia before travelling to Brazil.

    Italy were drawn in Group D alongside England, Costa Rica and Uruguay. The Azzurri begin their World Cup adventure against England in Manaus on 14 June.

    Italy squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint Germain)

    Defenders:
    Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)

    Midfielders:
    Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Romulo (Hellas Verona), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)

    Forwards:
    Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Mattia Destro (Roma), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Prandelli: My squad is designed for the Final

    Italy coach Cesare Prandelli called on his players to beat England in their FIFA World Cup™ opener in the hope of beginning a campaign that has been "designed" to see the Azzurri reach the Final in Brazil.

    On the first day of a ten-day training camp put into place to allow Prandelli to trim his provisional 30-man squad, the national team coach said he would likely not name his final 23-man travelling party until the "very last minute". But Prandelli was firm about the four-time champions' ambitions in Brazil: beating England in their opener on 14 June in Manaus to send them on their way to what would be a seventh appearance in a World Cup Final.

    "It will be important to take three points from our first game and in the process beat a strong team," said Prandelli, who stressed, however, that world champions "Spain lost their opening match", to Switzerland, at South Africa 2010. Italy, who won the last of their four World Cups in 2006, suffered an embarrassing first-round exit from the competition four years ago.

    After having reached the UEFA EURO 2012 final under Prandelli against all expectations, hopes are high that Italy can help erase the memories of their 2010 debacle. Prandelli's men will play England, Costa Rica and Uruguay in Group D in Brazil and could, if they advance past the second round, face a quarter-final clash against tournament co-favourites Spain or Brazil.

    Picking Prandelli's final 23
    But Prandelli is defiant: "We want to get to the Final. Because this squad has been designed with getting to the Final in mind. Everyone here is brimming with enthusiasm, and that's pleasing. We all have to remember we're preparing for the World Cup."

    Prandelli has rejuvenated his team, leaving veterans Luca Toni and Francesco Totti at home as the likes of Ciro Immobile, Mattia Destro and Lorenzo Insigne bid to convince the coach they are worthy of a place. Prandelli has a big selection dilemma regarding striker Giuseppe Rossi, who is fighting for full fitness having only recently returned to action following a four-month injury lay-off.

    He is reportedly in a duel with veteran Parma striker Antonio Cassano for a coveted place among the strikers, with Milan marksman Mario Balotelli already assured of his place. Prandelli, however, said he would reserve the right to "wait until the last minute" to make his final decisions.

    "I have a fair idea" on the final 23, said Prandelli when asked if he already had an idea of who could travel to Brazil. "But I consider it a pleasure being forced to wait until the last minute before making my final decisions: it means the players have come here with plenty of enthusiasm."

    Prandelli also refused to be drawn on which tactical formations he would deploy, adding: "We won't be rigid when it comes to tactical formations. We have the players and resources to adapt to each game and situation."

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    Immobile: I will give 200 per cent

    Ciro Immobile finished as the Italian Serie A's top scorer this season but the Torino striker knows he will have to continue to work hard to impress Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. Immobile, who made his Azzurri debut in an international friendly against world champions Spain in March, is currently training with Italy in Florence in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

    The 24-year-old struck 22 goals in 33 league appearances to help Torino finish seventh in Serie A. "The only thing certain is death," Immobile said. "I will have to battle to be among the 23 players that will compete in Brazil. I have achieved my two aims so far, to finish as the capocannoniere (league's leading scorer) and to be included in the preliminary squad for the World Cup."

    Immobile forged a potent attacking partnership with Alessio Cerci at Torino, with his team-mate notching 13 goals and setting up nine others in Serie A. Cerci, too, has made Italy's squad and they both face stiff competition to make the final cut.

    AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who was Italy's leading scorer in qualifying with five goals, leads the attacking pack. Roma's leading marksman Mattia Destro, Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne, Giuseppe Rossi of Fiorentina and Parma's veteran striker Antonio Cassano are also in contention. "We are all working to be prepared," Immobile said. "It will be up to the coach to make the decision.

    "We are all here with the intention of being able to play in the most important football competition there is and Prandelli will face a dififcult decision. I am determined to give 200 per cent. I want to prove that what I have achieved this season is not a fluke. My aim is to give everything and not have regrets if I end up not being selected. The important thing is that we are all ready."

    Immobile spoke of how the Azzurri are preparing to deal with the heat and humidity levels they will face in Manaus when they take on England in their Group D opener on 14 June. "We are working in the sauna," he said. "That helps to get us used to the temperature in Manaus.

    "You don't feel anything strange by being in the sauna, we just do specific training exercises in terms of breathing. We have worked with a lot of intensity in the past few days. We are preparing well in order to arrive to the World Cup in the best possible condition."

    Immobile has raised plenty of eyebrows this season and not just in Italy, with German side Borussia Dortmund, who will play in the Champions League next season, leading the chase to sign him this summer.

    "My agent is working on this," Immobile said. "After the good season I've had, it's normal that an ambitious player like I am wants to point to the highest. Borussia is a very important team and for me to play in the Champions League next season would be crucial in terms of growing professionally. Every player is ambitious and needs new experiences, for me that is to play in the Champions League."

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    Montolivo: We want to put things right

    Italian international Riccardo Montolivo admits a miserable domestic campaign with AC Milan has left him fired up for this summer's FIFA World Cup™.

    Milan could only finish eighth in the recently-completed Italian Serie A season as they missed out on European football for the first time in 16 years. That came as something as a shock with Milan winning the title just three years ago and not having finished outside the top three since 2008 and Montolivo, the Rossoneri captain, knows they need to do much better next season.

    Before then though, there is the small matter of the World Cup and Montolivo is hoping he can play a big part for Italy in Brazil.

    "I'm personally coming into the competition really charged up," Montolivo said to Gazzetta dello Sport. "There is so much will to bounce back from a negative season. No-one at Milan can be satisfied with the campaign we've had, neither individually or collectively. We need to learn from the mistakes we've made and try to be competitive next season. I just hope that I can do well with the national team."

    The 29-year-old midfielder, who came up through the Azzurri youth ranks before making his debut with the senior team in 2007, has another reason to do well in South America. He wants to help Italy make amends for their dismal display in South Africa four years ago.

    With Andrea Pirlo out injured, Montolivo started all three games for the Azzurri but could not help the defending champions avoid a shock early exit from the tournament.

    "Our desire is to bounce back after what happened four years ago," he said. "The World Cup in South Africa proved to be a negative experience and we can't wait to put things right."

    Montolivo, who has scored two goals in 57 appearances for his country, says there is no better place for the four-time world champions to do so than Brazil.

    "I expect a magical World Cup," he said. "To have it in Brazil, the centre of football, makes me think it's going be really special. I hope I will make the final 23-man squad and that Italy can be a beautiful surprise in the tournament."

    Italy, who were unbeaten in qualifying, begin their World Cup campaign against England on 14 June in Manaus. The Azzurri will also take on Costa Rica and Uruguay in Group D.

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    Prandelli pens contract extension

    Italy coach Cesare Prandelli can now turn his full attention to matters on the field after putting pen to paper on a two-year contract extension ahead of his team's 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ campaign this summer. The 56-year-old, who revealed last month that he had struck an agreement with the Italian Football Federation to remain in charge until after the 2016 UEFA EURO, needed to iron out details in his new deal - specifically about his image rights - and finally did so on Monday.

    "The agreement was already in place two months ago but we needed this time to formulate the contract," Prandelli said in Monday's press conference. "The federation wanted to include my image rights and this was the reason for the delay in signing the contract."

    Prandelli has yet to make a decision on the 23-man squad he will take to Brazil, where Italy will face England, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D. The Azzurri's first game will be against Roy Hodgson's England on 14 June in Manaus.

    "I have to wait and see as the next four days will be important to understand which players will be able to manage the workload and then we will have the friendly against Ireland (next Saturday)," he said. "After that game, we will choose the 23 players."

    Prandelli reiterated on Monday the team's need to be in top condition before they start their campaign in Brazil. But he also stressed that Italy will have to be flexible in their tactical approach. "From an athletic standpoint, you have to be ready to take the players to an optimum condition level, then we need to put out a team that is able in a fast way to put our rivals in difficulty," Prandelli said.

    "It will be hard to see a team that will start and finish a game with the same formation. We have to be ready to be flexible. Hence, if we have a problem, we adapt but that change should not be a negative - it should be something that adds value to the team.

    "We've already had an important week of work and they have all responded brilliantly. I would say that all of them are well, even though some have suffered through the workload. We have to be able to manage fatigue both physically and mentally."

    One player in the spotlight is Giuseppe Rossi, the Fiorentina striker who recently returned from a right knee injury that had sidelined him for four months. Rossi is among the 30 players who have been training in Italy's headquarters in Coverciano, Florence, since last week. "I have seen in Rossi a player that is making great sacrifices and that is dreaming with his eyes open," Prandelli said. "This is a message for all the players in the squad."

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    Darmian hopeful of World Cup spot

    Matteo Darmian has not yet to make his senior debut for Italy, but the Torino full-back believes he can make the cut and head to the World Cup.
    The 24-year-old was a surprise inclusion in Cesare Prandelli's 30-man preliminary squad that is training in Coverciano, Florence, ahead of the tournament.

    "I don't know if I will go to Brazil," Darmian said at Tuesday's press conference. "But I will give everything to impress Prandelli and make his choice all the more difficult.

    "I'm working very hard. If I'm honest, at the start of the season I wouldn't have thought I could be a part of the national team. But now I'm proud to have been selected in this group and I want to compete for a spot.

    "I know that I have no international experience as I have not played a single game for the national team. But this is all the more stimulating and it would be fantastic to play at the World Cup. I hope I can follow the footsteps of (Juventus left-back Antonio) Cabrini, although Prandelli will have the final say."

    Cabrini played at the 1978 World Cup for Italy, despite going into the tournament uncapped. Prandelli revealed he had been monitoring Darmian for some time and was impressed by the Legnano-born defender's strong performances.

    Darmian, who came through the AC Milan youth ranks and made his Serie A debut with the Rossoneri aged just 17, played in all but one league game this season to help Torino finish seventh.

    "If I'm here it is thanks to Torino and especially to (Torino coach Giampiero) Ventura," Darmian said. "(Former Milan and current Real Madrid coach Carlo) Ancelotti granted me my league debut, but it's Ventura that has given me the playing time and made me grow as a player. These two coaches are very meticulous and at this level you need that."

    Darmian is pleasantly surprised by the great atmosphere in the Azzurri camp. "The group is united," he said. "More than great players we have great people. We are all physically well and really motivated."

    Darmian's strong campaign has led to him attracting the attention of top clubs in Italy and in Europe. However, Darmian, who is under contract with the Turin side until June 2017, is fully focused on the task at hand.

    "I think I will remain at Torino, although to hear that there are clubs interested in me is something to be pleased about. But I'm not thinking of the transfer market right now, there will be time to do so in the future."

    Darmian is expected to earn his first cap in Saturday's friendly against the Republic of Ireland at Craven Cottage. Italy will play against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D at the World Cup.

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    Buffon: Our goal is the quarter-finals

    Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon claims the Azzurri's minimum target at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is to reach the quarter-final stages. The 2006 world champions, coached by Cesare Prandelli, finished runners-up at UEFA EURO 2012 and ended last year's FIFA Confederation Cup in third place.
    "I can't say with absolute certainty that we will reach the Final or the semi-finals," Buffon said in Thursday's press conference. "I believe that we are reliable team, in the sense we are able to win the games we have to win.

    "At times, we are also able to surprise in games where we are not considered favourites. If we reach the quarter-finals, it will already be a good World Cup for us."

    The Juventus veteran goalkeeper knows Italy are going to have to overcome some very good teams if they are to be a serious threat to win the competition for the fifth time. "We are a matured team," Buffon said. "We have few limitations and for that reason, we are a reliable side.

    "But we have to be honest and recognise the value of other rivals. When you talk about Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Germany, they are all a step ahead of us and hence, are favourites. We are behind them, alongside France, (a side) that has a big potential, and Belgium, who could reach the semi-finals and it wouldn't be a surprise."

    Buffon has plenty of World Cup experience, having taken part in the last four tournaments with the Azzurri and lifted the trophy eight years ago. "The World Cup is such a strange and brief competition that not always the value of a team is respected," the 36-year-old said. "Perhaps energy, freshness and fortune makes the difference.

    "It will be my fifth? It's a good achievement but that doesn't mean I'm satisfied. Like in any top competition, you prepare to face it always with the aim to impress, not just as an individual but as a team. To play at a World Cup is the maximum reward that a player can get."

    Italy have been drawn alongside England, Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D in the tournament in Brazil. Italy start their campaign against Roy Hodgson's Three Lions in Manaus.

    "With respect to England and Uruguay, we can push further than them," Buffon said. "England has virtually gone through a revolution. They have a lot of youngsters, and hence, they are not favourites.

    "However, if they are able to find balance immediately, then they might be able to pull off a surprise, but it's normal they are not favourites. Uruguay is also a trustworthy team like us. It's difficult to see them lose games they have to win."

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    Montolivo injury ruins Italy's warm-up

    Italy's FIFA World Cup™ plans were thrown into turmoil as Riccardo Montolivo was stretchered off during a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland.

    Montolivo made seven appearances for the Azzurri during their World Cup qualifying campaign and was set to be a key member of Cesare Prandelli's side in Brazil. But the AC Milan midfielder suffered a serious-looking left ankle injury early in the first half of the friendly at Fulham's Craven Cottage and, with early reports suggesting it could be broken, it must be extremely unlikely he will recover in time for the World Cup.

    To make matters worse for Prandelli, he also saw Fiorentina midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who had come on for Montolivo, forced off with an injury before half-time. Prandelli, whose side kick off their World Cup campaign against England on 14 June, has yet to prune his provisional 30-man squad down to a final group of 23 and he will be sweating on the medical bulletins on Montolivo and Aquilani before making the final cut.

    The only positive for Prandelli, who fielded an experimental line-up, was the sight of Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi playing 70 minutes to prove his fitness after a serious knee injury sidelined him for much of the second half of the season. Rossi was handed an opportunity to prove his fitness and the American-born 27-year-old partnered Torino's Ciro Immobile, who was making his debut in attack after finishing as the top scorer in the Italian Serie A this season.

    Claudio Marchisio was first to threaten for Italy with a long range effort which drew a fine save from David Forde. Republic of Ireland hit back when John O'Shea collected Aiden McGeady's cross and tested Salvatore Sirigu, deputising for rested first choice goalkeeper Gigi Buffon.

    The major blow for Italy came in the 14th minute when Montolivo was carried off after being caught on by a strong challenge from Ireland defender Alex Bruce. The Italians looked rattled by Montolivo's cruel exit and Irish midfielder Anthony Pilkington brought Sirigu into action again with a low 20-yard shot.

    Prandelli's side took a long period to recover their composure before Torino left-back Matteo Darmian, making his debut, fired narrowly wide from Rossi's pass.

    Another fine Republic of Ireland move ended with David Meyler's shot well saved by Sirigu. Ireland were well on top as half-time approached and Shane Long's header was kept out by an excellent Sirigu stop.

    Incredibly there was another injury setback for Italy before the break when Aquilani, who earned a reputation for fitness problems during his spell at Liverpool, limped disconsolately off.

    Long almost put Ireland ahead early in the second half, but his strike was repelled by Sirigu. Prandelli's men thought they had taken the lead in the 55th minute, but Immobile's tap-in was ruled out for offside.

    That was Immobile's last contribution as his debut came to an end moments later when he was replaced by veteran Parma forward Antonio Cassano.

    O'Neill's side could have added insult to injury for the Italians in the closing stages when Stephen Quinn hit the underside of the crossbar and McGeady's follow-up shot was well saved by the impressive Sirigu.

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    Rossi omitted from Prandelli's Italy squad

    Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi was the major absentee when Italy coach Cesare Prandelli named his 23-man FIFA World Cup™ squad on Sunday. Rossi's exclusion was perhaps not a huge surprise as he missed four months of the season due to injury and did not have enough time to rediscover his form and fitness to convince Prandelli of his worth.

    Another missing from the list was AC Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, whose World Cup ambitions ended when he suffered a broken leg in Saturday's warm-up against Republic of Ireland. Versatile Napoli attacking player Lorenzo Insigne instead joins forwards Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile on the plane to Brazil.

    Italy are in Group D alongside England, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

    Italy squad

    Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Mattia Perin (Genoa)
    Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Gabriel Paletta (Parma)
    Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
    Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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