Straight from the dark heart of Italy
We all know what it feels like: you do all the hard work and then someone else comes along and steals all the credit.A number of those trotting around the pitch at Tardini stadium on Wednesday night at the end of Italy’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign must have been asking themselves: “Is this as good as it gets?”All that matters now is that the Azzurri either retain their world crown or reach the later stages next summer - and in a country where the aged are still tolerated if not revered, one of the heroes from 2006 could well be back for another tilt at the title.There have been whispers coming out of Rome for some time that Francesco Totti would not be against making a trip down to South Africa.The Roman had, of course, called it a day at international level when he reached the pinnacle of any player’s career on that never-to-be-forgotten night in Berlin.Roberto Donadoni made a tentative approach for his return ahead of Euro 2008 but was flatly rebuffed, while Alessandro Del Piero refused to say goodbye and hasn’t had a look-in since.They always say you should go out at the top.
But as we have seen so many times in sport those practitioners at the highest level can never simply fade away – and there have been enough cautionary stories to suggest that it will all end in tears.However, Italy are crying out for someone to put the ball in the net, having only scored 15 goals in qualifying before meeting Cyprus when Alberto Gilardino hit a hat-trick on an evening where the Azzurri had trailed 2-0 – obviously the prosecco had been flowing on the flight back from Dublin.Totti may have started the season with an impressive haul of 15 goals in 12 games and 23 throughout 2009 – making him the most prolific Italian around at the moment.But this is the World Cup we are talking about, not Serie A where penalty-taking and free-kick abound, or heaven forbade the kick-around commonly known as the Europa League where he netted five goals over two legs against Belgium powerhouse Gent.His goalscoring record at international level is not that earth-shattering: nine goals from 58 matches.At 33 and still feeling the effects of two career-threatening injuries in the last four years, would the old master make much difference to Italy’s current state of affairs going forward?He has certainly never been an off-the-bench impact player so would have to start, more than likely leaving Gilardino as the odd man out.Certainly if Totti decides to make himself available then Fabio Quagliarella can plan his summer holidays, as can younger hopefuls Giampaolo Pazzini and Mario Balotelli, while Amauri’s Italian citizenship will probably be tied up in red tape until the 2014 World Cup.The telling factor is that Lippi has not vetoed the return of one of the old guard, and he may take Totti along just to put a lid on any further discussion surrounding Antonio Cassano.The “Cassano for Italy” campaign has certainly got under Lippi’s 'Cool Hand Luke' façade lately. He had already warned the press not to mention the Bari Bawler again in his presence, and then hit out at the fans in the Tardini for chanting the Sampdoria man’s name.Having been down this World Cup road once before, it looks as if Lippi - like Totti - has more to lose then gain next summer.
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I know they are world champions at present...but until I see Cassano, Balotelli or Pazzini in that squad they will just be a generically Italian side leaving it late to win stylishly whilst prancing around for most of the campaign.
At least Cassano or Balotelli would provide some flare and fire, whilst Pazzini would get the chance to exhibit his footballing ability on the world stage.
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