Italy boss Cesare Prandelli has stressed that Inter attacker Antonio Cassano's lack of fitness was the reason behind his omission from the Azzurri squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta.
The flamboyant attacker was one of the stars for his country at Euro 2012, but the former Fiorentina wants him to get fully match fit first before taking him into consideration once more.
"Cassano has stated that he is only at 50 or 60 per cent at the moment," the Italy coach said at a press conference.
"This is not the moment to help players get back in shape. We must win games right from the start in order to qualify for the World Cup.
"I simply can not take any risks with players who are not in top condition right now. There is a lot at stake in these qualifiers.
"Antonio only has to make sure he gets back to 100% again and hit top form. Then I will have tactical decisions to make again."
Italy start their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign with an away match against Bulgaria on September 7.
Italy forward Antonio Cassano was grateful for his first goal at Euro 2012 against the Republic of Ireland, after heart surgery in November last year threatened to rule him out of the tournament in the first place.
The opening of his account coincided with a 2-0 win for Italy over the Boys in Green which, combined with Spain's victory over Croatia, set up a quarter-final date for the Azzurri against England.
"When I was recovering, my first thoughts were to go back to living," Cassano told Sportmediaset.
"I've made three thousand sacrifices to be here, and my goal helping us to progress to the quarter-finals is a dream. Of course, when it's someone like [Andrea] Pirlo taking the corner, it's that much easier."
The 29-year-old then lauded AC Milan's decision to turn down Paris Saint-Germain's massive offer for club-mate Thiago Silva, who has established himself as one of the world's best defenders at San Siro.
"I'm happy Thiago [Silva] will be remaining at Milan next season," Cassano added. "It was an obvious act of love to the club by the president."
Silvio Berlusconi rejected a €47 million offer from the Parisian side that would have seen the center-back reunited with former Milan coach Leonardo.
Having survived a group stage which was "half very good and half so-so", Italy's Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Cassano are ready for the challenges ahead.
There was a sense of relief in the Italy squad as they qualified for the quarter-finals, but also a sense of a job well done after Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli struck unanswered goals against the Republic of Ireland. Three Azzurri players spoke to UEFA.com at the Municipal Stadium Poznan.
Daniele De Rossi, Italy midfielder
Everything worked out well. We said many times that we had to focus on our own game and if we did we would qualify, as we knew that Spain would play like they did and beat Croatia. We've seen that it was also difficult for them. However, we struggled in this game, perhaps more than the previous two. We couldn't find any space as they closed it down well.
The Irish are a good team, very physical. They definitely made it a very difficult game so they deserve credit for that. As for their fans, I've never seen anything like it. They play a good long-ball game and all you need is one mistake, one good moment for them. It's not easy when all their side are so physical.
Claudio Marchisio, Italy midfielder
It was tough, especially the last minute when we were waiting for the result from the other match, but then it finished very well for us. Now a new tournament begins for us, after an up-and-down round which was half very good and half so-so. But we got through this round, which wasn't easy, with Spain, Croatia, and even Ireland, who even though they were already out of the tournament gave everything they could today as well. So great credit to this team, who showed big character in a crucial game.
Maybe today with the change of tactics there was more balance in the team in comparison to the other matches. This is the way we are going to play in the next matches, no matter who we face in the quarter-finals. After an even game against Spain, who are European and world champions, we are happy to take on anyone.
Antonio Cassano, Italy forward
The tough victories are the best ones. The most important thing was to get through the group stages. I couldn't wait for the final whistle in the other match, but then the match finally ended, and I'm very happy. We don't fear anybody. The important thing was to qualify, and now the knockout stage starts and we will face anybody.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has affirmed that Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale are all likely to make his squad for Euro 2012, but ruled out call-ups for experienced attackers Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti.
The national team boss is expected to announce a provisional 30-man squad for this summer's tournament on Sunday, before eventually trimming his roster down to 23 players for the finals. And Prandelli has made it clear that there will not be any unexpected names.
"There will not be any surprises in the squad. Totti and Del Piero? Like I've said before, I'll only consider them in an emergency. I prefer to give younger players such as Roma's Fabio Borini a chance," Prandelli stated to Corriere della Sera.
"Cassano has shown that he loves the national shirt and he did all that he could to recover full fitness as soon as possible. He put pressure on the medics so that he could return to give us a helping hand.
"Balotelli can't afford to make any more mistakes, but I'm confident that he won't. We need to give players with talent an extra chance and there's no doubt that he's a special talent.
"I disagree with anyone who argues that Toto Di Natale doesn't deserve to be in the squad. He has scored almost 100 goals in three years and can be very helpful for us."
Italy are drawn with Spain, Republic of Ireland and Croatia in Group C at Euro 2012.
It was Italy's second huge blow in three days, but was without doubt the most worrying. After Giuseppe Rossi damaged knee ligaments against Real Madrid in October, the Azzurri were left to feel like they'd been hit where it hurt most. Yet just 72 hours later his strike partner in the national team Antonio Cassano suffered an ischemic attack on the way back from AC Milan's away trip to Roma, and the whole country was left stunned.
After immediate fears for the long-term health of the Bari native were allayed, thoughts turned to an estimated date for his return to the football pitch. By the end of 2011, there was talk that he was still six months away from competitive action, effectively ruling him out of this summer's Euro 2012 finals.
Cassano's Milan team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic revealed to Goal.com that his condition was such that at one point none of his colleagues were allowed to see him for fear of raising his blood pressure to dangerous levels. But once he returned to Milanello, he showed clear signs of coming on in leaps and bounds.
Suddenly there was an outside chance that he'd be ready to travel to Poland with his compatriots for the European Championship, but even when he was given the all-clear by medics at the beginning of April, nobody could have expected that he'd look as ready as he does just a few weeks on. After a testing time in Italy in terms of the health of the country's footballers, there is suddenly some better news.
He may have only made three substitute appearances in Serie A since returning to action, but Cassano looks extremely sharp for a man whose health was in great doubt not long ago. With each game he looks more and more ready to push for a spot in Cesare Prandelli's 23, and the national team coach has spoken a number of times of his wish to have Cassano with him if he's fit. There's no real surprise in that when you consider there are few others with his adaptability, creativity and international know-how.
So when Prandelli attended Wednesday's clash with Genoa at San Siro, he will have been delighted to see the star of his team's qualifying campaign come on for the final 40 minutes and help to push Milan on to victory. The double introduction of Cassano and Kevin-Prince Boateng proved key to the Rossoneri picking up three points having earlier struggled for penetration.
It was the No.99 who looked most likely to get beyond the opposition back line, or thread through the killer pass, and the home side were as lively in the second half as they had been clueless in the first. His sharpness and enthusiasm put the rest of his side to shame.
It is often said that players who have sustained long-term injuries can show a freshness that others don't have at a crucial stage of the season given that they have plenty left in their legs, and that may well be the case for Cassano. Whereas Rossi has suffered a setback in his recovery, the former Real Madrid and Sampdoria man looks primed to make an impact on both his club and his country over the next two months.
One of Milan's main problems this season has been their insistence on rushing back injured players, but Talentino's condition has been such that they have handled him in the right way so far. His return may have come just too late to rescue the Rossoneri's title hopes, but it may have come at the perfect time for Italy.
With four league games to go, he may well not get to play a full 90 minutes before joining up with the Azzurri, but that needn't be a bad thing. Whatever training he has been doing for the past couple of months has seemingly put him in a great position physically and mentally.
With a skip in his step and a glint in his eye, Cassano looks ready to make an impact once more. After six goals in Euro 2012 qualifiers, his position as Italy's talisman was in no doubt. And now, despite the most difficult five months in his life, he looks ready to slot back into the same role again.
|Full Name : Antonio Cassano
Date Of Birth: July 12, 1982
Place of Birth: Bari, Italy
Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Current Club: Milan
National Debut: 2003
Caps: 28 (9)
Cassano was born in Bari and his father left the family shortly thereafter. He was raised in the Bari Vecchia neighbourhood, and began playing football at an early age. Cassano was spotted by an A.S. Bari scout and brought up through the team's youth system, and he made his Serie A debut for Bari against local rivals U.S. Lecce in 1999.
At the age of nineteen, Cassano signed with reigning Serie A champions A.S. Roma, for a transfer fee of 60billion Italian lire (about €30 million). His first season produced five goals, and he attracted media attention after openly clashing with coach Fabio Capello after he was left out of a practice match a few days after his international debut. In the 2003 Italian Cup final against A.C. Milan, Cassano was sent off after protesting an official's decision, and he flashed the sign of the horns at the referee while leaving the pitch.
He was omitted from the squad during Roma's tumultuous 2004–05 campaign while Luigi Delneri, Roma's third coach of the season (after Cesare Prandelli and Rudi Völler), was in charge. After Delneri himself resigned during the season, his replacement, Bruno Conti, returned Cassano to the starting lineup, with Cassano captaining the team in the absence of incumbent Francesco Totti, who was serving a five-match suspension.
During the 2005–06 preseason, Cassano was in constant conflict with club management over the renewal of his contract, which was due to expire on June 30, 2006. In January 2006, he acrimoniously parted ways with Roma and signed with Real Madrid. for just €5M.
Cassano became the second ever Italian player to sign for Real Madrid after former Roma teammate Christian Panucci. His début came on 18 January 2006, in a Spanish Cup match against Real Betis, and scored his first goal just three minutes after entering the match in the second half. However, just four months into his tenure with the club, he began gaining weight due to poor eating habits, which resulted in Madrid fining him for every gram he remained over his playing weight.
On 30 October, Madrid's official website announced that Cassano had been suspended due to his "disrespect" of Capello, who had joined the club at the beginning of 2006–07 season, following a dressing room argument arising from his omission from the team after a game against Gimnàstic de Tarragona, and was subsequently benched along with David Beckham and Ronaldo. In an interview with a Roman radio station, Cassano said he would "walk all the way back" to rejoin Roma, and indicated his eagerness to make peace with Totti, with whom Cassano had conflicted with before his departure from Roma. However, Cassano remained with Madrid after the January 2007 transfer window had closed, and the rest of his season was cut short by an ankle injury.
In an interview with Spanish radio in July 2007, Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón described Cassano's attitude as "unsustainable in the last couple of months" and indicated that he would be leaving the club.
On 13 August 2007, Sampdoria took Cassano on a one-year loan, agreeing to pay €1.2 million of his €4.2 million salary. He was presented to approximately 2,500 fans five days later. In his first press conference, Cassano said that since his first-choice number 18 was already taken by teammate Vladimir Koman, he had instead chosen 99, because 9 plus 9 equals 18.
He made his Sampdoria début in the Derby della Lanterna against Genoa on 23 September, in which he was substituted by former Roma teammate Vincenzo Montella in the final minutes of the match. Cassano scored his first league goal upon his return against Atalanta a week later, in a 3–0 victory. He scored in three consecutive games in January, and helped end league leaders Inter Milan's winning league run with a goal in a 1–1 draw. However, Cassano was sent off in a 2–2 draw with Torino FC on 2 March 2008, which he compounded by hurling his shirt at the referee as he left the pitch, and was punished with a five-match ban. Sampdoria ended the season with a UEFA Cup berth, while Cassano was acquired on a permanent basis by the club on free transfer (plus bonus) from Madrid.
In his second season, Cassano confirmed to have temperamentally improved, also becoming vice-captain for the team behind Angelo Palombo. After the January signing of Giampaolo Pazzini from ACF Fiorentina, Cassano managed to form a fruitful striking partnership with the former viola forward, that was praised by both media and Sampdoria supporters, and led club chairman Riccardo Garrone to compare it with striking duo of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini that led Sampdoria to win their only scudetto to date, an opinion that was later shared also by both Vialli and Mancini.
His third season with Sampdoria again began very well for Cassano, who affirmed himself as a valid assist-man for Pazzini, and being instrumental in the club's impressive seasonal start, that led them up to first place after a 1-0 home win to Inter. However, a result crisis, including a 3-0 defeat in the local derby against crosstown rivals Genoa, left Sampdoria down to mid-table on January, leading head coach Luigi Delneri to put Cassano off the team for "technical and tactical reasons", casting doubts about the player's future at the club.
In the final days of the transfer window, he was linked with a move on loan to Fiorentina, that was however denied with an official statement from the club, but was described by the media as Cassano's own refusal to leave Sampdoria. This was confirmed by Cassano himself through an official statement published on Sampdoria's website, citing his relationship with club chairman Riccardo Garrone, his teammates and the team supporters as the main reason for his choice.
On October 2010 Cassano was excluded from the first team squad with immediate effect after he had a heated row with chairman Riccardo Garrone following the player's refusal to attend an award ceremony. Following such events, Sampdoria formally applied for a contract termination to a league arbitration panel, a position that was confirmed even after Cassano apologised to Garrone and the club. On December 16, the arbitration panel ordered Sampdoria to reinclude Cassano into the first team from 1 January 2011, rejecting the blucerchiati's request for a contract termination, but also concluding Cassano will be paid only 50% of his salary for the remainder of his contract.
On 20 December 2010, it was reported that A.C. Milan, Sampdoria and the player agreed the installment plan to pay a €5 million to Real Madrid which was indicated in Cassano's buy-out clause when he left the Spanish club. Eventually Sampdoria paid €5 million to Real Madrid; Milan paid €3.33 million to Sampdoria, while Cassano had a wage cut with Milan. Cassano then signed a three-and-a-half year contract with Milan, which was later confirmed by Milan's owner Silvio Berlusconi. He made his debut for his new club in a 1-0 win against Cagliari Calcio where he came on as a substitute for Alexander Merkel in the latter stages of the game. He scored his first goal for Milan in a 4-0 win against Parma. He went on to score three more goals that season, two against former clubs Bari and Sampdoria and the other one a penalty against fierce rivals Internazionale.
He never really claimed a spot in the starting XI and was behind Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexandre Pato and Robinho in the Milan pecking order and due to his wish to keep his spot in the Italian national side, a lot of speculation formed over his future with links to Fiorentina and even English Premier League club Liverpool F.C.. In the end, though, he stayed with Milan and, after a good pre-season, scored in the first Serie A game of 2011-12 against Roman side S.S. Lazio.
Cassano has sixteen caps and four goals with Italy. His début came in November 2003 against Poland, in which he scored his first goal. He was part of Italy's UEFA Euro 2004 squad as a reserve, but after Totti was suspended following a spitting incident with Christian Poulsen in a group match against Denmark, Cassano was inserted into the starting lineup for a 1–1 draw with Sweden in which he scored. He also netted a last-minute winner in a 2–1 victory over Bulgaria, but Italy were eliminated in the group stage on goal difference.
Cassano was left off the final roster for the 2006 World Cup, but was called up for two Euro 2008 qualifying matches in September 2006. He was part of the finals roster and went scoreless in the tournament as Italy were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Spain after a penalty shootout.
After a two-year absence from the Azzurri team, and following widespread criticism from the media towards Marcello Lippi about his exclusion from the 2010 FIFA World Cup squad, Cassano was readmitted into the Italian team on August 6, 2010 by new head coach Cesare Prandelli for his first game in charge of the team, a friendly match against Côte d'Ivoire to played on August 10 at Upton Park, London. Almost a month later, in Italy's UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier played in Estonia Cassano scored the tying goal in a 1-2 away victory and also assisted Leonardo Bonucci's second goal with a back-heel. Cassano scored a long-range goal from just outside the box in Italy's 5-0 UEFA Euro 2012 qualifier win over the Faroe Islands. He scored again against Estonia helping Italy secure a 3-0 win.
Cassano got engaged with water polo player, Carolina Marcialis, in 2008 and then married at June 19, 2010 at church, Chiesa di San Martino, in Portofino. Cassano's wife gave birth to the couple's first child, a son, his name is Christopher, he was born on March 14, 2011.
It was reported that on 30 October 2011, Cassano complained of finding it difficult to speak or move when the team returned to Milan.
AC Milan announced and confirmed on 2 November 2011, that Antonio Cassano suffered ischemic-based cerebral damage, though it should be temporary. Cassano underwent minor heart surgery soon after and is expected to return to playing in a few months.
Supercoppa Italiana: 2001
La Liga: 2006–07
Serie A: 2010–11
Supercoppa Italiana: 2011
Serie A Young Footballer of the Year – 2001, 2003
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has expressed his joy at learning that Antonio Cassano is poised to make his return to first-team action with AC Milan.
The forward, who played an integral role in his country's qualification for Euro 2012, has not played since being forced to undergo an emergency heart procedure last November after falling ill following his club's Serie A clash with Roma at the Stadio Olimpico.
It was initially feared that Cassano would not feature again this season but it is now being reported that the Bari native could play some part in Milan's meeting with Fiorentina this weekend.
"I've very happy," Prandelli told reporters on Monday. "I cannot say anything other than I'm just very happy."
Prandelli also had grounds to smile after learning that Lega Calcio have agreed to his request for a training camp at the end of the month.
The Italy boss had been hoping to hold two-to-three get-togethers in March and April but Serie A's finest rejected that idea.
However, a compromise agreement has been reached which will see clubs release their players for a two-day training camp on April 23 and 24.
Italy have been drawn in a group with Spain, Republic of Ireland and Croatia for Euro 2012.
The boss again gave a cryptic response to the idea of the pair of World Cup winners turning out for the Azzurri again and would like Mario Balotelli to 'calm down'.
It has been a number of years since the seasoned forwards made their last appearances for the national team, but the injuries to Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano have seemingly opened the door to the possibility of two sensational comebacks.
However, the coach again was tight-lipped when posed the question: "Totti and Del Piero wearing the Azzurri colours? I do not say yes and I do not say no, I say wait.
"Of course, I miss Rossi and Cassano, but I will wait until the last day for them. Balotelli is very strong, but still needs to calm down."
Prandelli had been touted as a potential candidate for the managerial post at Inter following Claudio Ranieri's sacking a few days ago.
In response to the reports, he admitted he does miss aspects of coaching at club level but insisted Italy remains his sole focus going into the summer's showpiece event.
"Inter? I am concentrating on the national team, but if it goes wrong in Poland and Ukraine, who knows," Prandelli told Tuttosport.
"I repeat, I do miss the day-to-day responsibility, I've never hidden it."
Italy open their European Championship campaign against Group C rivals Spain on June 10.