Monday, 8 June 2009

[Azzurri] Santon living the dream

A largely experimental Italy side defeated Northern Ireland 3-0 in Pisa on Saturday night in a friendly which is likely to be remembered as the match when Inter's Davide Santon made his Azzurri debut.

Davide Santon"I said Santon was predestined and now I have seen him in front of me I can confirm that," said Italy coach Marcello Lippi. "He is still young, but he has a great personality, ease of play and the capacity to get involved."

The 18-year-old, nicknamed 'Il Bambino' by Inter coach Jose Mourinho, played the entire 90 minutes at right-back as Italy, featuring five other debutants, emerged victorious thanks to goals from Giuseppe Rossi, Pasquale Foggia and Sergio Pellissier.

"I'm very proud to hear such words coming from a coach like Lippi," Santon said. "However, I still have everything to prove – we can say that my career has not even started."

A product of the Nerazzurri's youth system, the right-footed Santon made his Inter debut on 21 January at left-back in a Coppa Italia match against Roma. Four days later he made his Serie A bow in a 1-0 home win over Sampdoria and, having established himself as first choice, marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie with Manchester United.

International recognition arrived in the shape of an Under-21 friendly appearance against the Netherlands in March, although Azzurrini coach Pierluigi Casiraghi has been unable to count on the Portomaggiore-born player for this month's UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

Lippi has included Santon in his squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, a turn of events that has taken the teenager aback.

"This is a dream," Santon admitted. "Until last week I thought I would play with the U21 side so I was very surprised when they told me I would be going to South Africa instead.

"I'll keep working hard without. I'm already very proud to be a member of this group and I look forward to meeting and training with captain Fabio Cannavaro."

AC Milan midfielder Gennero Gattuso skippered the Azzurri in Pisa and has already been advising his new team-mate of how to handle the adulation which is likely to come his way.

"He sent me a text message after the game," Santon revealed. "He congratulated me and told me to keep my feet on the ground."

That maybe easier said than done, though, with the whole of country now following Santon's rise.

"Having an 18-year-old player like him is good for the whole of Italian football," said Lippi. "He has already proved to be mature enough not to get carried away."

The official 23-man squad travelled to Johannesburg overnight and will prepare for next week's Confederations Cup debut against USA with a friendly with New Zealand in Pretoria on Wednesday night.

[FIFA Confederations Cup 2009]

Source: UEFA

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