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Soccer: Prandelli hints at Cassano comeback

'Hoped younger lads would have progressed better'

20 March, 15:22
Soccer: Prandelli hints at Cassano comeback (ANSA) - Rome, March 20 - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has hinted he may grant Antonio Cassano's dream of playing in the World Cup in Brazil.

Prandelli said the Parma striker's rich recent vein of form, capped by a match-winning brace against his old club AC Milan Sunday, put him in the frame to return for the first time since helping the Azzurri to second place at Euro 2012.

The Tuscan-born coach said he had been hoping a younger generation of players would "grow enough" to push the old-timers out for good.

"But if the younger lads haven't progressed as I expected, why not look back to the tried-and-trusted," Prandelli said.

"If someone's playing better at 32 than he did at 30," the coach said, "why not (pick him)"?.

Cassano has 35 Italy caps but has never fulfilled his abundant promise at the international level, partly because of disciplinary problems.

The former bad boy will turn 32 a day after the World Cup Final in Rio on July 12.

Prandelli last week said that, while he had never closed the doors to the national team on Cassano, "they are not too open either".

But he rephrased that slightly after seeing the 31-year-old take his goal tally for the season up to 11 with the double that gave Parma its 4-2 victory over Milan at the San Siro.

"The doors have never really been closed, and they are even more open now," he told local newspapers in the L'Espresso group.

"After the Euros we tried to look ahead, Cassano was 30 and we were working on the hypothesis that other players would continue to grow.

"Some of them haven't done that, and no one has a guaranteed place in the 23-man squad, except for Gigi", he said, referring to Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

As well as his goals, which have put him in sight of beating his best-ever tally of 14, for Roma in 2003-04, 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 give them a strong chance of qualifying for next season's Europa League.

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's chances appear stronger than ever.

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' (white 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.