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Azzurri Veterans Fight for WC Spot
AUGUST 21, 2005 - You can always go home again. Just ask Alessandro Del Piero. The Juventus striker returned to the Italian national team for the first time in almost a year at the Aug. 17 friendly match against Ireland. After making a superb cross to Alberto Gilardino who went on to score a beautiful goal, Del Piero left a lasting impression. Italy won 2 to 1.
Del Piero - along with his teammates - is trying to impress Coach Marcello Lippi as the September and October World Cup qualifying games inch ever closer. With 13 points, the Italian team is in good position to win the top spot in their qualifying group, which includes Norway, Slovenia, Belarus, Scotland and Moldova. To keep its lead, Italy will try to strike the right balance between the skills of veteran talent, like Alessandro Nesta, and hot-shot youngsters, like Gilardino.
But the team's lineup has been compromised by injury and controversy. Star Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will be sidelined for two months - and will likely miss all the qualifying matches - because he dislocated his shoulder in a pre-season match for club Juventus. Udinese Goalkeeper Morgan DeSanctis and A.S. Monaco goalkeeper Flavio Roma are likely replacements. And Palermo's Matteo Guardalben was called up as another understudy in light of Buffon's absence from the bench.
Also, up-and-comer Antonio Cassano, whose contract with club team A.S. Roma is up in June 2006, still hasn't inked a new deal and hasn't received much playing time. Many were surprised that he wasn't called up for the national team for the friendly at summer's end. "Cassano is not going through the best of times," Lippi has said. "But the fact that he has not been included doesn't mean anything. He knows that he is part of this important project that involves 30 other players."
Without Cassano, Lippi had room for Del Piero, who has been back in form recently - and seems to be redeeming himself with the Azzurri. Christian Vieri and Francesco Totti are other veterans who were recalled to the team recently. They all have something to prove in the lead up to Germany 2006 - that they're not too old to bring home a World Cup for Italy.
World Cup Qualifying Matches:
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