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Soccer: Cassano banging door for Italy WC place

Parma forward in fine form as young rivals falter

18 March, 18:50
Soccer: Cassano banging door for Italy WC place (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, March 18 - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli last week said that, while he had never closed the doors to the national team on Antonio Cassano, "they are not too open either".

But if the Parma forward and reformed rebel keeps up his current vein of form, he may find a way to bang those doors down and take a seat in Prandelli's squad for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.

The 31-year-old took his goal tally for the season up to 11 when he scored a double to help Parma beat his former side AC Milan 4-2 at the San Siro on Sunday.

The talented and famously temperamental striker has also delivered five assists this term, helping Parma notch up a 16-match undefeated run to climb to sixth place and put them in the running to qualify for next season's Europa League.

He has not played for Italy since helping them reach the final of Euro 2012, with Prandelli saying he was looking to younger players.

Cassano's form is not the only factor that is raising speculation he could return for the Azzurri in Brazil. If Fiorentina's Giuseppe Rossi fails to recover full fitness after suffering a knee injury in January, Prandelli will have to find an alternative second striker to partner Milan's Mario Balotelli in attack.

One possibility, Milan's 21-year-old forward Stephan El Shaarawy, is out with a foot injury at the moment.

Other young contenders, such as Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne, Torino's Ciro Immobile and Sampdoria's Manolo Gabbiadini, are struggling for consistency.

So Cassano may have a chance.

He say he wants to "cause Prandelli trouble" over his selections by keeping up the good work.

"I've lost 10 kilos to go to Brazil. I'm on a diet and I've stopped eating focaccine (pizza), except for once a week," he said after the Milan win.

"I have never played at a World Cup and it's something I'd love to do. I would be the happiest man in the world if it happened".

Some pundits have suggested Prandelli might be concerned about whether Cassano would be fit enough to cope with the intense heat, although this might be less of a problem if the coach intended to use him as an impact substitute rather than a starter.

Another factor, however, is Cassano's volatile personality which, even if he seems to have got it under control recently, could upset the balance of Prandelli's squad.

One of the most gifted players of his generation, his career has been dogged by disciplinary problems and rows with coaches and he has won relatively few trophies for a footballer of his potential.

Cassano's temper tantrums have been so numerous that the Italian press has dubbed them 'Cassanate' - a play on the widely used swear word 'cazzata', meaning f**k-up.

After exhausting the patience of his coaches at AS Roma and Real Madrid, he looked to have become a reformed character after joining Sampdoria in 2008.

He once famously gave a referee who had sent him off the 'horns' gesture, which is an Italian way of telling someone they are a cuckold, and went on to throw his shirt at him and threaten to wait for him for a fight after the game.

But otherwise he was mostly on good behaviour while playing for the Genoa side before he lost his temper with late club chairman Riccardo Garrone, calling him an "old shit", among other things.

That spat lead to a dispute that ended with Cassano joining AC Milan in 2011.

Cassano spent much of his time at Milan recovering from an operation to fix a heart defect that caused him to have a minor stroke in 2011, so it was a relatively uneventful stint in terms of 'Cassanate'.

He moved to Inter in 2012 but did not stay longer than one season following a big training ground bust-up with former coach Andrea Stramaccioni.

The player, who comes from a deprived area of the southern Italian city of Bari, is cheerful and entertaining in his infrequent press interviews, although his controversial opinions have got him into trouble.

He was fined after causing an outcry during Euro 2012 by saying he hoped there were no gay players in the Italy team and using a derogatory term, 'froci', to describe homosexuals.