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Marchisio backs Gilardino to plug Italy hole
Claudio Marchisio believes team-mate Alberto Gilardino will prove a successful deputy for the injured Mario Balotelli when Italy tackle Spain in the Confederations Cup semi-finals on Thursday.
Balotelli was ruled out of the tournament on Monday after tearing a muscle in his left thigh, depriving coach Cesare Prandelli of a player who has become Italy's most influential striker over the past 12 months.
Gilardino was a member of the Italy squad that tasted World Cup glory in Germany in 2006, and although he has only played for four minutes at the Confederations Cup, Marchisio says the 30-year-old Bologna target man can make an impact against Spain.
"Balotelli is a big loss. We know how good he is and what he has done in this competition," the Juventus midfielder said during a media conference in Fortaleza on Tuesday.
"He was very sorry to leave. He really wanted to play against Spain, but there are other players ready to replace him, who want to play and do well.
"We have Gila, who knows where the goal is. He's a world champion as well, and I'm sure he can do a good job."
Marchisio said Balotelli's impressive performances during the group phase, which included goal-scoring turns against Mexico and Japan, were a sign of the 22-year-old's increasing maturity.
"We're progressing and so is he. He's maturing," said the midfielder.
"Playing on his own up front, he fought hard and still made a difference, like against Mexico (when Balotelli scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win). With time, he's maturing and improving."
Spain made serene progress through the group phase, beating Uruguay 2-1 and destroying Tahiti by a record 10-0 margin before securing their place in the last four by overcoming Nigeria 3-0.
Asked how to stop Barcelona pair Xavi and Andres Iniesta from exerting their habitual domination in midfield, Marchisio replied: "Good question!
"They're the best in the world in their position. We know that Spain's strength lies especially in their possession of the ball, and that's what we've been working on over the last few days."
There was better news for Italy on the injury front on Tuesday when key midfielder Andrea Pirlo resumed full training after missing Saturday's 4-2 loss to Brazil with a calf complaint.
Speaking on Monday, team doctor Enrico Castellacci had said he was "moderately optimistic" about the 34-year-old Juventus player's chances of facing Spain.
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