MILAN - For so long seen as the bad boy
of Italian football, Antonio Cassano came of age in Italy's
opening Euro 2012 qualifying win over Estonia and he will again
be their focal point for Tuesday's game with the Faroe Islands.
The Sampdoria forward, whose was as famous for his
outbursts and immature antics as he was for his football in his
early career, has calmed down significantly in recent times and
at 28 is now making a difference for his country.
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Former Italy coach Marcello Lippi was slammed by the media
for ignoring him for two years but new boss Cesare Prandelli
immediately restored Cassano after June's World Cup debacle.
Cassano's headed goal and an instinctive backheel to set up
Leonardo Bonucci for the winner helped Italy fight back from a
goal down to defeat Estonia in their Group C opener on Friday.
"I would sign up to have him always display the same
willingness he showed as well as the goals and assists,"
Prandelli told reporters.
"Up to now he has behaved wonderfully with the national
team. He understands the errors of the past. Only a while ago
football was fantasy to him, now he feels responsible."
Cassano had a back problem before the game in Tallinn but
that was never going to stop him.
A quiet first half where he drifted too far to the left
wing as part of Prandelli's three-pronged attack, with
Giampaolo Pazzini and Simone Pepe, also threatened to undermine
his performance before a startling second period.
Prandelli said he would like to play Cassano behind front
man Pazzini, just like the pair do for Samp, but that the lack
of wingers in Italian football means a 4-3-3 is more useful
than a 4-4-2 formation.
Pepe struggled against Estonia but could keep his place in
the qualifier against the Faroes with rival Giuseppe
Rossi doubtful after suffering an ankle problem in training.
The ghosts of South Africa, where holders Italy went out in
the group stage, have a long way to go before they are
exorcised with the defence of dead balls still a problem for
the Azzurri and vulnerable stand-in goalkeeper Salvatore
Unheralded Faroe Islands, who were unlucky to lose to
Estonia before going down 3-0 at home to Serbia on Friday, will
pose less of a threat and may give Prandelli's much-changed and
inexperienced squad the chance to better gel on Tuesday.
Prandelli's first home match in charge will be extra
special for the 53-year-old given the game is being played in
Florence, where he guided Fiorentina to modest success over the
past five years before taking the Italy job.
He expects most fans to be welcoming but a few chants
criticising his departure from Fiorentina could occur.
Italy: Salvatore Sirigu; Lorenzo De Silvestri, Leonardo
Bonucci, Girgio Chiellini, Cristian Molinaro; Daniele De Rossi,
Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo; Antonio Cassano, Simone Pepe,
Faroe Islands: Gunnar Nielsen; Christian Mouritsen, Hendrik
Rubeksen, Johan Davidsen, Atli Gregersen; Jonas Tor Naes,
Frodji Benjaminsen, Jan Ingi Petersen, Christian Holst; Simun
Samuelsen, Joan Edmundsson
Referee: Aleksei Kulbakov (Belarus)
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