Friday, 10 October 2008

[Azzurri] Lippi upbeat despite injuries

Italy's preparations for their World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Montenegro have been disrupted by injuries to key players, but coach Marcello Lippi remains confident that they can build on their opening wins.

Italy trainingGoalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been ruled out for a month with a back problem, whilst his Juventus team-mate, midfielder Mauro Camoranesi needs to recover from a tear in his right thigh.

As such Lippi will continue the team's evolution that he began when retaking the reigns in July and has no fears over filling the gap left by Camoranesi on the right, with either Udinese winger Simone Pepe or Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi likely to benefit alongside Antonio Di Natale on the left.

"Rossi is ready to play. He is quick, clever and complete. He can play as the main and support striker, out wide, in the middle and has experience from his time at Manchester United," Lippi said.

"Pepe hugs the line, gives us space, covers, attacks, scores goals and is an alternative to Camoranesi. I wanted to call him up in September."

The Azzurri take on Bulgaria in Sofia on Saturday night and Lippi is refusing to reveal who will play up front.

With the team set to continue with the 4-3-3 system, Bayern Munich's Luca Toni and Fiorentina's Alberto Gilardino will be battling for the main forward's role in the starting XI.

In-form Gilardino appears to be the number one candidate, having struck four goals so far this campaign in Serie A, while Toni is struggling in front of goal.

Having scored three goals in the early stages of the Bundesliga season, the former Fiorentina hitman has not found the net since September 13.

Lippi is, however, unfazed by this fact. "If a player is not brilliant for their club, it does not necessarily mean that he is out of form," he said. "His performance depends on many factors, including his team-mates and the coach."

Despite the setbacks of Buffon and Camoranesi and the numerous other injury absentees - Marco Materazzi, Nicola Legrottaglie, Marco Cassetti, Fabio Grosso, Andrea Pirlo, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Marco Borriello - Lippi is upbeat about his team's chances heading into the double-header.

"I am very confident," he said. "I am really satisfied with how the team has worked this week. The young players have adapted really well."

Lippi also announced debut call-ups for the Napoli pair of Christian Maggio and Fabiano Santacroce.

Meanwhile Giorgio Chiellini will partner captain Fabio Cannavaro at the heart of defence while Marco Amelia will have the task of replacing Buffon in goal.

"I know my role with Italy," said the Palermo goalkeeper. "With Buffon in front of me I have to stay calm, train well and make sure I'm ready when the chance comes and make the most of the opportunity."

Italy top Group Eight with six points, two more than the Republic of Ireland, after victories against Cyprus and Georgia last month.

Lippi, meanwhile, has now gone 28 matches without defeat (the last, a 1-0 World Cup qualifying reverse against Slovenia in October 2004)
, a run that includes 18 wins and 10 draws and dates back to his first spell as Azzurri coach.

Should his side stay unbeaten in these next two qualifiers, Lippi would move level with the legendary double World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo, whose Nazionale squad went unbeaten for 30 games (24 wins and 6 draws) between 24 November 1935 and 20 July 1939 - a run that included the second consecutive World Cup win.

Source: AFP

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