8 October 2014 18:39
Ciro Immobile is determined to prove Italy can flourish without Mario Balotelli in Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifying clash with Azerbaijan.
Liverpool striker Balotelli was omitted from Antonio Conte’s first squad since replacing Cesare Prandelli last month, as Italy defeated Netherlands in friendly action before opening their Group H qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win at Norway.
Balotelli was again missing when Conte named a 26-man party for the double header with Azerbaijan and Malta, with Borussia Dortmund forward Immobile and Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza likely to once again lead the line after impressing as a partnership in Italy’s last two games.
The 24-year-old’s continued absence has been questioned in some quarters in Italy, but Immobile believes that the focus should be on those players that have been included.
“Balotelli? There are other strikers here who are doing very well, players with great quality and if they are here it’s because they deserved to be,” he said ahead of the clash at Palermo’s Stadio Renzo Barbera.
“I know Mario well, he’s a good guy, but the coach makes the call-ups.”
Immobile is also full of praise for the qualities that Zaza brings to the team, adding: “He has great physicality, always puts grit and determination into every move and that is fundamental.
“He has technical qualities that are obvious and above all is hungry to climb the career ladder. If you have quality and add grit to it, then some things happen spontaneously.”
Southampton striker Graziano Pelle offers another forward option for Conte ahead of the meeting with Berti Vogts’ men.
The 29-year-old was handed his first call-up to the national team after scoring four goals in seven Premier League appearances since moving to the St Mary’s Stadium in the close-season.
Empoli defender Daniele Rugani was also in line to make his Italy bow after being called up to the senior squad, but he will instead play for Italy’s Under 21s in their European Championship play-off tie with Slovakia due to an injury to Alessio Romagnoli.
Juventus’ experienced midfielder Andrea Pirlo will once again link up with Conte, who left the Turin club in the close-season, after he was called up as a late replacement for Milan’s Giacomo Bonaventura.
In Azerbaijan, Italy face a side 82 places below them in FIFA’s official world rankings.
As such, the visitors will start as massive underdogs and a 2-1 defeat at home to Bulgaria in their opening group clash has done little to suggest an upset is on the cards.
However, Vogts’ side enjoyed a solid end to their FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign as they went four games unbeaten, including a surprise 1-1 draw with Russia last October.