Bulgaria test whole new ball game for Italy: Prandelli
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli insists his side's "great" campaign at Euro 2012 will count for nothing as the Azzurri take a first step towards the 2014 World Cup in Bulgaria on Friday.
Italy were expected by many to struggle at this summer's European Championship following the huge fall-out from the Calcioscommesse match-fixing affair.
But despite that burden, and their poor form going into the tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, Italy stunned observers by making it to the final where they ultimately fell to a superior Spain side.
Prandelli was appointed shortly after Italy's group-stage exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which came four years after their triumph at the 2006 edition in Germany.
And having been drawn in Group B with Bulgaria, Denmark, Malta, Armenia and the Czech Republic, his intentions are crystal clear.
"We are Italy and although I respect all the other teams in our group we will obviously be aiming for first place," he said after the World Cup draw.
Barely five weeks after a crushing 4-0 defeat to Spain and only two weeks into a season which has deprived him of at least two key players in Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, Prandelli is less bullish.
"We are not at the European Championship, where I saw flashes of quality in the side... we get back to business against Bulgaria," he said.
While AC Milan striker Giampaolo Pazzini has been included in the squad following a hat-trick last weekend against Bologna, Inter marksman Cassano has been left on the sidelines.
Although he scored a goal in the shock 3-1 defeat to Roma at the San Siro on Sunday, Cassano is said to be lacking form -- but is likely to figure sometime soon.
"Antonio's not out altogether, he just needs to get back into shape," added Prandelli.
Cassano and Balotelli's absence, the latter having undergone an eye operation recently, does not mean Italy are necessarily handicapped.
Instead, speculation this week centred mostly on who will play up front and what formation Prandelli will use against Bulgaria, then against Malta when the islanders visit Modena next Tuesday.
The Serie A season is only two weeks old, and in that short time several players have stood out from the rest giving Prandelli choices in both midfield and attack.
Pazzini's hat-trick for Milan made front page news and handed the striker his first squadra call-up since February.
But, if rumours emanating from Italy's Coverciano training base prove correct, Prandelli may prefer to test Sebastian Giovinco and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo as the two front men and revive the 3-5-2 formation he used at the start of the Euro campaign.
Giovinco, nicknamed the "Atomic Ant" due to his diminutive stature but electric style of play, won a penalty and scored twice for Juventus in their 4-1 win at Udinese on Saturday.
Roma's Argentine-born front man Osvaldo could have had several goals when the giallorossi stunned Inter on Sunday. After two near misses his vision and sense of good timing finally paid off when he beat Inter's poor offside trap to score with a deft chip from a Francesco Totti ball.
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