Buffon boost for Cassano as Azzuri gear-up for qualifiers

ITALY goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has offered exiled star Antonio Cassano some hope in making it into Marcelo Lippi’s squad for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

Despite ‘Il Talentino’ being frozen out of the upcoming qualifiers by Lippi, Buffon doesn’t believe the World Cup-winning tactician has excluded the Sampdoria man from future call ups.

“I don’t see this as a definite exclusion, all Lippi said was that Cassano not being here was his choice and it should be respected,” Buffon said yesterday.

A number of reports had claimed certain players in the Giro Azzurro didn’t want Cassano in the squad, but the goalkeeper has denied those claims and Buffon believes the ‘Talentino’s’ Azzurri future is far from gloomy.

“Anything can happen from now until June. All the talk about Cassano’s character is history.

“And let’s be clear once and for all, the group here has not colluded against any player,” the Juventus man finished.

Manager Lippi, meanwhile, has opted against making wholesale changes to his team for this week’s qualifiers as the battle with Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland hots up.

The world champions have been unimpressive in qualifying and were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland last month.

Lippi is likely to stick with a tried and tested outfit for the tie away to Georgia in Tbilisi on Sunday and at home to Bulgaria in Turin next Wednesday.

The Azzuri are one point above Ireland in their group with one game in hand and hope to gain some breathing space before the match between the sides in Dublin on October 10.

Daniele de Rossi and Nicola Legrottaglie return after missing the game in Basle, and there is a first call up for Marco Marchionni following impressive displays for Fiorentina after his transfer from Juventus. Domenico Criscito and Claudio Marchisio retain their spots.

In attack, Lippi has opted for Antonio di Natale, who leads the Italian league in scoring with three goals . He is joined by Fabio Quagliarella as well as Vincenzo Iaquinta, who scored the winner for Juventus on the opening weekend.

Fabio Cannavaro was named as the captain once again and is set to start. Lippi will be hopeful that the understanding Cannavaro has struck up with Giorgio Chiellini since returning to Juventus will continue in a blue shirt, and help Italy to win their first match since the 3-1 victory over the USA on June 15.


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