Friday, 5 June 2009

[Azzurri] Santon set for Italy bow

Italy coach Marcelo Lippi will give young Inter defender Davide Santon his senior international debut against Northern Ireland on Saturday night after admitting to being impressed with him in training.

Davide SantonThe 18-year-old has made a phenomenal rise from Inter's youth team to become one of their first-team mainstays this season, convincing Lippi to take a closer look at him.

And the World Cup-winning coach is more than impressed with what he has seen.

"I had said that he was predestined (to be an international) and now that I have seen him in real life, I can confirm that is exactly how it is," Lippi told a press conference held in Covericano.

"Santon is only a lad, yet he has a great personality, plays the game easily and has the capacity of fitting in."

Should Santon play at Pisa's Stadio Garibaldi, he will become the third youngest ever to wear the Azzurri colours, following Renzo de Vecchi, who made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1910, and Inter legend Giuseppe Bergomi in the modern era.

Bergomi made his debut in 1982 as an 18-year-old, when he was less than two months younger than Santon.

Indeed, inexperience prevails in Lippi's
experimental squad with only two members of his 2006 World Cup winning side due to start, Fabio Grosso and Gennaro Gattuso.

Gattuso is making his return after five months out injured and should partner Fiorentina's Riccardo Montolivo at the heart of the Azzurri midfield.

Cagliari's Federico Marchetti is set to make his debut in goal.

Giuseppe Mascara of Catania, Giuseppe Rossi and Giampaolo Pazzini are the preferred choices in attack while Chievo's Sergio Pellissier may therefore have to wait before making his debut.

Finally, Nicola Legrottaglie should partner Alessandro Gamberini in the heart of the defence.

Italy won their last encounter with Northern Ireland six years ago, with goals from Bernardo Corradi and Marco Delvecchio sealing a 2-0 win in Campobasso in what was also a largely experimental side.

While one eye will be on this penultimate friendly test before the FIFA Confederations Cup kicks off, the other will be on the Republic of Ireland who could leap above the World champions at the top of their World Cup qualifying group with a victory over third-placed Bulgaria.

"If Ireland win, then they go to the top of the group having played one game more than us," said Lippi. "If Bulgaria win, then they are back in the race, but they still have to come and play here.

"We will have to wait and see."

official 23-man squad announced on Thursday will depart for Johannesburg and the Confederations Cup on Sunday night.

Italy will play New Zealand in their last friendly test in Pretoria on Wednesday.

[FIFA Confederations Cup 2009]

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