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The striker had an ischemic stroke in October and looked set to be out until July, but just a few weeks after returning early he looks set to lead the Azzurri line at the Euros

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By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

It was Italy’s second huge blow in three days, but was without doubt the most worrying. After Giuseppe Rossi damaged knee ligaments against Real Madrid in October, the Azzurri were left to feel like they’d been hit where it hurt most. Yet just 72 hours later his strike partner in the national team Antonio Cassano suffered an ischemic attack on the way back from AC Milan’s away trip to Roma, and the whole country was left stunned.

After immediate fears for the long-term health of the Bari native were allayed, thoughts turned to an estimated date for his return to the football pitch. By the end of 2011, there was talk that he was still six months away from competitive action, effectively ruling him out of this summer’s Euro 2012 finals.

Cassano’s Milan team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic revealed to Goal.com that his condition was such that at one point none of his colleagues were allowed to see him for fear of raising his blood pressure to dangerous levels. But once he returned to Milanello, he showed clear signs of coming on in leaps and bounds.

Suddenly there was an outside chance that he’d be ready to travel to Poland with his compatriots for the European Championship, but even when he was given the all-clear by medics at the beginning of April, nobody could have expected that he’d look as ready as he does just a few weeks on. After a testing time in Italy in terms of the health of the country’s footballers, there is suddenly some better news.

ITALY'S POTENTIAL EURO HITMEN
Player
 Antonio Di Natale
 Antonio Cassano
 Giampaolo Pazzini
 Alessandro Matri
 Mario Balotelli
 Fabio Borini
 Pablo Osvaldo
 Sebastian Giovinco
 Marco Borriello
Caps
36
28
23
4
7
1
2
6
7
Goals
10
9
4
1
1
0
0
0
0

He may have only made three substitute appearances in Serie A since returning to action, but Cassano looks extremely sharp for a man whose health was in great doubt not long ago. With each game he looks more and more ready to push for a spot in Cesare Prandelli’s 23, and the national team coach has spoken a number of times of his wish to have Cassano with him if he’s fit. There’s no real surprise in that when you consider there are few others with his adaptability, creativity and international know-how.

So when Prandelli attended Wednesday’s clash with Genoa at San Siro, he will have been delighted to see the star of his team’s qualifying campaign come on for the final 40 minutes and help to push Milan on to victory. The double introduction of Cassano and Kevin-Prince Boateng proved key to the Rossoneri picking up three points having earlier struggled for penetration.

It was the No.99 who looked most likely to get beyond the opposition back line, or thread through the killer pass, and the home side were as lively in the second half as they had been clueless in the first. His sharpness and enthusiasm put the rest of his side to shame.

It is often said that players who have sustained long-term injuries can show a freshness that others don’t have at a crucial stage of the season given that they have plenty left in their legs, and that may well be the case for Cassano. Whereas Rossi has suffered a setback in his recovery, the former Real Madrid and Sampdoria man looks primed to make an impact on both his club and his country over the next two months.

One of Milan’s main problems this season has been their insistence on rushing back injured players, but Talentino’s condition has been such that they have handled him in the right way so far. His return may have come just too late to rescue the Rossoneri’s title hopes, but it may have come at the perfect time for Italy.

With four league games to go, he may well not get to play a full 90 minutes before joining up with the Azzurri, but that needn’t be a bad thing. Whatever training he has been doing for the past couple of months has seemingly put him in a great position physically and mentally.

With a skip in his step and a glint in his eye, Cassano looks ready to make an impact once more. After six goals in Euro 2012 qualifiers, his position as Italy’s talisman was in no doubt. And now, despite the most difficult five months in his life, he looks ready to slot back into the same role again.

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