29th February, 2012
Jurgen Klinsmann has guided USA to a three-match winning streak and today, the German great will hope to extend that with his biggest scalp yet – European giants, Italy.
The last time the urbane 47-year-old crossed swords with Italy was when he coached hosts Germany at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, losing to the Azzurri in the semi-finals.
This time around, the stakes are not as high, but Klinsmann catches the hosts at a good time with Cesare Prandelli desperately looking for a strikeforce he can deploy ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 finals in June.
Having successfully got them to the finals and rebuilt some of the damage done to their image after they became the first defending champions to exit at the first hurdle in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Prandelli has lost his three leading strikers.
Antonio Cassano, so often excluded from previous squads for his off-the-field behaviour, is out because of a heart problem for which he underwent an operation last November, and while he is on the road to recovery, he will not be available for the June extravaganza.
Giuseppe Rossi too is recovering after suffering a serious injury at the end of October, playing for his Spanish club Villarreal, while Cassano’s replacement Mario Balotelli has been dropped for his on the field behaviour.
“The players know that behaving badly like that risks their being at the Euro,” said Prandelli, who was also referring to Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo whom he excluded from the squad after he was sent off on Sunday for slapping an opponent.
“I’ve had enough of this type of behaviour in football, these nervous reactions and slaps, they are a sign of weakness. We cannot take a player to the Euro who risks seeing us reduced to 10 men during the match. I am also very disappointed that the two players in question did not ring me to talk to me about it.”
Thus for the United States game, Prandelli will likely turn to starting Parma’s diminutive Sebastian Giovinco, with nine goals this season, while there may even be a chance for the newly-called up 20-year-old Fabio Borini of Roma, scorer of seven this term, to start alongside him as Inter Milan’s Giampolo Pazzini is like his team completely out of form.
Klinsmann has unlike his counterpart got the luxury of a full-strength squad, meaning he has his European-based players available.
Klinsmann, though, is delighted that his side have got such a high-profile opponents – the three wins have been against lesser lights Slovenia, Venezuela and Panama – and away, it will help them develop.
“It’s very important we get these games and especially when playing them on the road. That’s when you really get players out of their comfort zone and they have to deal with a difficult environment on a physical and psychological level. Our roster is highly competitive and ready to give them a real fight.”