The Italy squad have gathered at the Coverciano technical centre in Florence for their pre-Euro 2008 training camp and the media focus is on Antonio Cassano.
Coach Roberto Donadoni’s decision to name Cassano in his 24-man provisional squad stole the headlines last week.
The former Roma striker has re-invented himself at Sampdoria this season while on loan from Real Madrid and got the nod ahead of AC Milan's Filippo Inzaghi and Lazio’s Tommaso Rocchi.
As the players arrived to begin their preparations this morning, Azzurri fans gathered around the training facility to cheer them on, and in particular for Cassano.
"Cassano is just a lad, don't make him into an alien," Donadoni told a news conference.
"I believe after that heavy suspension in the league he has understood what it means to be in a group."
In March, Cassano served a five-match ban for verbally abusing a referee and throwing his shirt towards him.
Gianluigi Buffon has also called for the tempestuous marksman to be left in peace by the media.
"Don’t put pressure on Cassano," the Juventus goalkeeper demanded. "He will do great things."
Udinese striker Fabio Quagliarella was happy to see Cassano amongst the ranks, even if he is a rival for a place in the attack.
"It’s right that there is so much competition for a striking spot in the national side," he insisted.
"The inclusion of Alessandro Del Piero and Cassano has given us a big motivation. Cassano is a great player who can give a lot."
Barcelona defender Gianluca Zambrotta also backed the 25-year old. "I am not surprised to see Cassano with the national team," he said.
"He's had a good season and I don't believe he needs particular advice. He's matured since Euro 2004. He's four years older. We're not talking about a 16-year-old kid.
"Antonio has more experience now and let's hope he gives us a boost in quality and makes us win. We veterans welcome him with affection, without problems."
Cassano's inclusion may have cost Inzaghi a spot in the squad for Austria and Switzerland. The 34-year-old did not take his exclusion well, issuing a bitter statement last week but Donadoni says there is no rift between them.
"I respect him, but he has got to respect me," Donadoni said, refusing to reveal what he told Inzaghi. "I don't have anything to be ashamed of or anything to apologise for.
"Pippo is a guy who lives for football and that's to his credit. But what we said remains between us. The issue is closed."
Meanwhile, the relaxed training session this afternoon was disrupted for a few minutes when a couple of streakers ran onto the training field.
Inter’s players arrived later while Roma’s representatives are due to join the group this evening after yesterday’s Coppa Italia Final.
The squad will continue their preperations on Monday when they have a double training session scheduled.
Donadoni has to cut one player from his 24-man squad by Wednesday, but - barring any behavioral problems - it's not expected to be Cassano. Midfielders Riccardo Montolivo of Fiorentina and Alberto Aquilani of Roma appear in greater danger unless there is an injury.
Source: C4 Football Italia, Reuters, ANSA, AP.