By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
As qualifying campaigns go, Italy’s was not at all bad. They may have occasionally been unconvincing, but they also remained unbeaten, and by October had many tipping them for a decent run at the Euro 2012 finals.
Six months on, and they have suffered a difficult stretch, beaten at home by both Uruguay and USA and shorn of their two first-choice strikers. Now, with just seven weeks to go before the big kick-off in Gdansk, Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli still appears completely undecided over the make-up of his forward department.
Di Natale in numbers
|77||His total number of league goals in the last three seasons.|
|45||The percentage of Udinese's goals this season scored by Di Natale.|
|10||His goal tally for Italy. Giovinco, Pazzini, Borini, Matri, Osvaldo and Balotelli have netted a combined total of six.|
|150||Among his 239 professional goals, 150 have come in Serie A. He has also netted 30 in major cup competitions, plus his double-figure haul for Italy.|
|6||The number of successive seasons in which Toto has scored 10 or more goals in Serie A, with the last three campaigns all seeing him top out at over 20 strikes.|
Among a group of potential strikers who have all performed at varying degrees of average in the past season, Di Natale has again been the one stand-out. Having passed the 20-goal mark for a third successive term, the former Empoli man is still in the running for a hat-trick of capocannoniere crowns. What is more, only Uruguayan Edinson Cavani has scored more goals from open play in Serie A during the current campaign.
So why is it that the man in easily the best form of any of the candidates is being ignored by the coach? This writer has been behind Prandelli for a long time. From European achievement with Fiorentina, through to his appointment as national coach, there were many of us who were huge advocates of his. But right now it is nothing less than bewildering to watch Di Natale completely cast asunder.
If there were a plethora of other outstanding candidates, perhaps Prandelli would be in a position of greater authority on the ‘Toto’ issue. But with Cassano only just returning after heart trouble, Rossi now ruled out for the foreseeable future with a second knee ligament problem and Mario Balotelli treading a fine line in terms of the coach’s ethical code, Italy’s main striking hopes are not in a position of absolute power.
Beyond them, Sebastian Giovinco is a likely squad member, but nobody else can really be sure of their spot. The likes of Alessandro Matri, Giampaolo Pazzini, Fabio Quagliarella, Fabio Borini and Pablo Osvaldo still have a great deal of convincing to do at international level.
ANTONIO DI NATALE IN SERIE A SINCE 2009
ANTONIO DI NATALE
True though it is that Di Natale has not had the most decorated career in the Azzurri shirt so far, his consistent form over three seasons deserves recognition. But while Prandelli seemingly has no reason not to give him a shout, he has now gone almost two whole years without selecting him even once. In the time that the ex-Viola boss has been in charge of the national side, Di Natale has scored 54 times for Udinese. Nobody in the Italian game comes close.
So while Osvaldo battles it out with Marco Borriello for the target man berth, Cassano fights to prove his fitness, Balotelli attempts to show he has his mind on the job, and Quagliarella and Matri try to become sharp enough in front of goal to help Juventus win the Scudetto, it is Di Natale who has the biggest job on.
Because if 77 league goals in three years is not enough to win him back a national shirt, it is hard to see what he can do in the six games he has left this season in order to curry favour with Prandelli. And if he is to miss the trip to Poland and Ukraine, it will be to Italy’s distinct disadvantage.