Lippi warns his players not to play for a draw

MARCELLO LIPPI yesterday hailed Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni’s management skills and stressed his Italy side would be foolish to play for a point in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier at Croke Park.

The Azzurri only need a draw in Dublin to book their tickets for South Africa, while former Italy coach Trapattoni’s men are two points away from a play-off slot, with Montenegro visiting Dublin four days after the world champions.

“(Trapattoni has brought to Ireland his) capacity to organise and become a team and his ability to develop the self-esteem of this group of players so that they are able to contend with anyone,” Lippi told a news conference at Italy’s training centre near Florence.

“The danger for us is to think only about playing for that point. The team must play as they know how to, they must play trying to win the game if possible, knowing that two (of the possible) results out of three are good for us.”

If Italy lose at Croke Park, they can still wrap up World Cup qualification as Group 8 winners by beating Cyprus in Parma on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Lippi is refusing to take anything for granted, insisting this was “the most important week of these two years” since he returned as national team coach to replace Roberto Donadoni after Italy flopped at Euro 2008. He added that his side’s strong position would not lead to any complacency, with Ireland still in with an outside chance of winning the group.

“It would be strange if these four points were not an advantage,” he said. “These four points are welcome, as is the conviction that it’s all still to do.

“We need a point, which can be obtained on Saturday. If we are unable to get it on Saturday then well need three points, which we’ll have to get next Wednesday. And then we’re there.

“It’s very important (to qualify on Saturday) not from my point of view but from everyone’s point of view.”

The Azzurri, who drew 1-1 with Ireland in Bari in April, ended a string of uninspired performances when they beat Bulgaria 2-0 in Turin last month.

But Lippi remains under intense pressure to call up Sampdoria’s Antonio Cassano, who is in excellent form and is seen by many as the answer to the lack of invention the Azzurri have frequently shown in attack recently.

The 61-year-old is reluctant to use the playmaker because of past ill discipline and made no secret that he is irked by the ongoing controversy.

“You’re getting on my nerves,” he replied when asked about the player, who was given his international debut by Trapattoni in 2003.

Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio is an injury concern because of a minor knee problem, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon trained separately from his team-mates yesterday morning, although Italian media reported that the keeper should be available.

“There are some players who have problems,” Lippi said. “We’ll have to assess their condition and possibility of recovering in the next few days. Marchisio has a niggle.”

Captain Fabio Cannavaro is expected to join the squad on Sunday after being called up despite being suspended for the Croke Park game and not fully fit. The centre back has not played for Juventus since suffering a thigh muscle injury in a 1-1 draw at Bordeaux in the Champions League in the middle of last month.

Lippi did not want to comment on Donadoni’s sacking as Napoli coach yesterday after just seven months in the job: “Apart from sadness and solidarity with a coach who has lost his job, I don’t want to say anything.”

He said he was still trying to stamp out the dissent he sees among Italian players which he thinks could be a costly bad habit in South Africa.

“My campaign to raise the awareness of Italian footballers continues because, while Italian referees have changed a bit, foreign referees are still less permissive than ours,” he said.

“I want to make them realise that it would be a shame to go to the World Cup and miss a match through suspension, that there is less understanding for footballers and more punishment at the international level.”

The Italian Football Federation announced a minute’s silence will be observed before Saturday’s encounter in mourning for the victims of last Thursday’s storms and mudslides in Messina.

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