ROME (Reuters) - If Mario Balotelli were more mature, Antonio Cassano had not suffered a minor heart problem last November and Giuseppe Rossi was fit, Italy might be among the Euro 2012 title contenders.
But they are likely to struggle for goals despite coach Cesare Prandelli’s bold bid to rebuild the team and restore much-needed credibility amid yet another match-fixing scandal at home.
For all his promise and flashes of brilliance, Balotelli continues to let himself down with stupid antics and Prandelli gave the 21-year-old a clear warning in February that he risked being left out if his behaviour did not improve.
Balotelli was eventually picked for Ukraine and Poland and will probably lead the line but he will have Prandelli’s words ringing in his ears.
“You can’t be in the national squad if you risk leaving the team with 10 men,” Prandelli said.
Rossi, meanwhile, suffered damage to the ligaments in his right knee at the end of October and a reoccurrence means he is out of the Euros.
Cassano is in the squad but is not 100 percent fit after five months out following surgery on an underlying heart condition.
The Bari-born forward’s career has been marked by tantrums and personality clashes and he was overlooked by Prandelli’s predecessor Marcello Lippi.
Prandelli, however, gave him a vote of confidence and he started all the qualifiers, generally partnering Rossi and less frequently the diminutive Sebastian Giovinco, top scoring with six goals.
A more mature Cassano was also key to Milan’s Serie A title success in the 2010/11 season. But just when his career seemed to be back on track, his heart problem flared up.
Apart from attack, the team bears a surprising similarity to the one that flopped as holders at the 2010 World Cup, apart from the absences of Gianluca Zambrotta, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alberto Gilardino and the retired Fabio Cannavaro.
Gianluigi Buffon, 34, remains the favoured choice in goal, an excellent season at Juventus having reinforced his status.
Andrea Pirlo, who missed the first two games in South Africa 2010 through injury, has kept his place at the heart of midfield alongside a less tempestuous Daniele De Rossi.
Italy emerged unbeaten through the qualifiers, booking their place with two matches to spare as they made light of Serbia, Slovenia, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Estonia.
Their friendly results, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag as last August’s impressive 2-1 win over Spain has been countered by home defeats by Uruguay and the United States and a 3-0 loss to Russia in Zurich last week after a shocking defensive display.
Prandelli has certainly put Italy back on track after miserable campaigns at Euro 2008 and in South Africa and many will be grateful that he has kicked out the histrionics.
But with another match-fixing scandal hovering as an unwelcome diversion, whether he can lead them to their second Euro title after 1968 remains a different matter entirely.
Reporting By Brian Homewood; Editing by Mark Meadows