Monday, November 29, 1999

Italy`s forwards strike fear into no one

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Italy coach Marcello Lippi has hinted at changes for their next World Cup match and they could come in attack.Reserve strikers Antonio Di Natale, Giampaolo Pazzini and Fabio Quagliarella hope to start against New Zealand on Sunday when a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 is possible.Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta, both in the 2006 World Cup-winning squad, struggled to manage a shot in the Group F opener against Paraguay with wideman Simone Pepe the driving force.But while Italy's misfiring strikers undermined the team's performance in Monday's 1-1 draw, the problem for Lippi is that his remaining candidates are far from household names.While Argentina boast Lionel Messi, Spain have Fernando Torres and England parade Wayne Rooney, the world champions acknowledge their forwards are not quite in the same bracket."We do have very strong forwards but what counts is to have a group that works together, maybe that's more important than having a really top player," Pepe told reporters on Wednesday.There are at least four world famous Italian strikers sat at home watching on television in Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi and Luca Toni.FOUR HEROESThe four 2006 heroes were deemed to be too old and injury-prone by Lippi to make the trip this time despite their wealth of experience which could have worried any defence.Even after playing only a handful of games for AC Milan last term, 36-year-old Inzaghi is still viewed by the footballing world as the archetypal goalpoacher who will be offside more times than not but will be there for the tap-in when needed.Juventus forward Del Piero, 35, can still be deadly with free kicks and little passes even if his powers have waned while AC Roma's Totti continues to conjure goals from nothing."With Totti we are talking about a champion, an absolute champion but let's not talk about who is missing," Pepe added. "There are players of quality here."The mercurial talents of Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli were also ignored by Lippi leading pundits to ask where the bit of magic can come from in this Italy side.The absence of cultured midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who hopes to return from a calf problem for the last group encounter with Slovakia on June 24, also adds to their lack of creativity.The burden may continue to fall on Pepe, who has just moved to Juventus from Udinese and wants to increase his strike rate."I've learnt to cut inside and have more shots. Being on the left or the right for me doesn't change anything. I must improve with my finishing, I must be more incisive," added Pepe, who is backing former Udinese team mate Di Natale to shine."He has often been decisive even for Italy. I've seen him do impossible things."(Editing by Ken Ferris)
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