By Carlo Garganese
On Sunday evening Italy coach Cesare Prandelli named his 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and the big shock was the omission of Fiorentina forward Giuseppe Rossi.
Despite having only returned from a serious knee injury for the final four games of the club season following Leandro Rinaudo's cowardly challenge at Livorno in January, the word coming out of the Italy camp after Saturday’s 0-0 friendly draw with Ireland was that Rossi was a virtual certainty to be on the plane.
In truth, Rossi looked well short of match fitness at Craven Cottage, lacking both a turn of pace to escape opponents and the sharpness required to get shots away. However, he performed much better than his strike partner on the night, Ciro Immobile, and his potential to contribute to Italy’s World Cup journey exceeds any of the Azzurri’s other forward options - Mario Balotelli excluded.
Italy do not look like potential World Cup winners right now, but should have enough quality to progress to the quarter-finals where, if they are fortunate enough to avoid Brazil or Spain, can aim to go even further.
But in order to make that next step, Italy may have needed to take a gamble on Rossi. If they are to be in with a chance of upsetting the two Confederations Cup finalists, as well as Argentina, then they are not going to do so by fielding the likes of Marco Parolo or Alberto Aquilani.
Selecting both the Parma and Fiorentina schemers, just for the sake of taking eight midfielders, is illogical. The pair are unlikely to be needed in the early stages of the competition, and even if there are injuries and suspensions in the knockouts, Prandelli simply isn’t going to trust a Parolo or Aquilani against a World Cup favourite.
It would have made more sense to call up seven midfielders, following the injury to Ricardo Montolivo on Saturday, and take six forwards instead. Both Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne (as well as Antonio Candreva and Claudio Marchisio) are able to play in wide roles in a five-man midfield which could be interpreted as a 4-5-1, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, so Prandelli had the options to improvise.
Of the five attackers Prandelli named, there is certainly firepower - and a lot more depth than many other nations - but there is a distinct lack of top-level experience. A Cerci or Immobile could very well explode in Brazil, but there is a big difference between scoring goals for Torino and doing the same for a big club or in the Champions League. Put simply, neither of the Torino men are guarantees.
Nor is Rossi, given his injury situation. But the World Cup knockouts do not kick off for another four weeks, by which time he could have worked his way into shape - just as Francesco Totti did at the 2006 World Cup after returning from a serious injury.
Totti’s contribution in the knockouts proved decisive for Italy, scoring the winning penalty against Australia, creating two goals versus Ukraine, and playing the full 120 minutes in the epic semi-final win over Germany. Rossi could have had a similar impact in Brazil. We can safely say that Aquilani and Parolo won’t.