Ibrahimovic: I'm no sub
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has warned David Trezeguet and Alex Del Piero that he hasn't joined Juve to sit on the bench. The three men are in competition for just two shirts and the summer signing is eager to prove his worth.
"I don't feel like a reserve for anybody," said the £11m capture. "I'll fight for my place in the team even if I will do what is best for the club."
Juventus start the new season at Brescia on Sunday and there is great curiosity to see who boss Fabio Capello will select in attack. It was initially believed that Del Piero and Trezeguet would begin but Ibrahimovic's four goals for Sweden against Malta have underlined his current form.
"I don't think I've ever started a season so well," added the 22-year-old. "However, I've yet to train with my teammates. I'm ready to play on Sunday but it will be up to the Coach to decide whether that will happen. I consider Capello to be a great tactician and we both share the same objective which is to win.
"I'm delighted to be here and I'm not scared by what awaits. Juve are one of the best in the world and I can still improve as a player."
Ajax's Maxwell welcomes Juventus interest
Ajax wing-back Maxwell has declared he'd love to join Juventus.
"It would appeal to me to play for one of the great clubs in Europe: Juve are one of these," said the Brazilian. "I will meet the leaders (in the next months) and we will consider the best situation. To change clubs is one possibility.
"In the past, Inter has asked for me: my agent (Mino Raiola) had met the Nerazzurri leaders in order to understand their intentions, but then Ajax blocked my move."
Juventus on outer as Mascherano talks with Real Madrid
Juventus are on the outer as Real Madrid pursue River Plate midfielder Javier Mascherano. Juve had planned to land the Argentina international next summer, but Real have moved quickly and are closing in on a deal for January.
River vice-president José María Aguilar confirmed: "The negotiations with Real are going well. For us, it is positive that the player wants to stay at least until December, and also in Spain they are of agreement. We are two clubs that respect eachother and there is an optimal base for the negotiations."
Chelsea's Mutu: Abramovich stopped Juventus move
Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu says his move to Juventus was blocked by the club's owner, Roman Abramovich. Mutu was on his way to Juve over the summer, only for the deal to collapse at the last minute. The Romania international said yesterday: "I was already packing my bags for Turin. But then everything was blocked by Abramovich."
Lippi archives winning start
Italy have begun their World Cup campaign with two wins but boss Marcello Lippi insists there is still plenty to do.
"We need to continue working hard on the project which we have just started," said the tactician on Thursday. "It is our intention to develop into a strong squad and make sure that we qualify for the World Cup. Then it will be our objective to go to Germany and achieve something very important in the Finals."
Lippi's new look side have a 100 per cent record in Group 5 after wins against Norway and Moldova.
"It has been an important month for us and I am very happy because we have started our campaign well," he noted. "Everyone worked hard and we collected two vital victories, one in spectacular fashion and one on a poor pitch against a very aggressive side."
The tactician seems to have been able to create great enthusiasm and a united team spirit. Could that be affected by the return of some big name players?
"The likes of Totti, Cassano, Cannavaro and the others will return but that won't be a problem," he insisted. "It will be easy to fit in these players. Now there is a month before the next match for everyone to improve their form."
Alex the Great returns
Alessandro Del Piero, Italy's goalscoring hero last night, is confident he will have a successful season for both club and country. The No 10 netted the winner in the World Cup qualifier against Moldova which he believes bodes well for the future.
"It was an important strike and I've been looking to score a crucial goal for some time," he stated. "Everyone saw how happy I was and now I'm a lot more relaxed than in the past. All the signs are there to suggest that I will have a great season for the Azzurri and Juventus."
The attacker actually hadn't scored for his country from open play since 11 June 2001, in a 2-0 win away to Finland. Although the Azzurri didn't overly impress on Wednesday evening, the most important factor was that they won.
"We needed another victory," he continued. "The players and the Coach were desperate for the three points. We should have finished off the game in the first half but it doesn't matter now. We got the points and everyone is smiling."
Del Piero is now expected to be in action on Sunday when Juventus open the new season at Brescia. However, it is unclear at this stage whether Alex will partner David Trezeguet or Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack.
Juve and out for Buffon?
Gigi Buffon has revealed that he may quit the game when his current contract at Juventus expires. The No 1 is tied to the Delle Alpi outfit until 2009 and he seems ready to end his career with the Turin giants.
"It is difficult to improve on Juventus," said the Italy ace. "I have a contract with the Bianconeri until 2009 and that could be enough for me. At this moment in time I have no desire to play abroad either, as I'm not curious about football outside of Italy."
Looking ahead to the new campaign, the former Parma shot-stopper is convinced that the Scudetto will be won by Milan, Inter or Juve. "It will be a three horse race," he continued. "Juventus? We perhaps lacked character last season. This time though we will also have a 100 per cent Alex Del Piero."
Buffon will next be in action this evening as he will guard the Azzurri goal in the World Cup qualifier at Moldova. "There is a good mix of young players and experience here now," he noted. "There is a good spirit too. Now all we need are the results."
Why Marek snubbed CSKA
Marek Jankulovski insists that Juventus played no part in his decision to reject a switch to CSKA Moscow. Udinese had agreed to sell the player to the Russian club but he refused the move – amidst claims that he was waiting for the Turin side to make a bid.
"The club knew that I couldn't go to Russia for family reasons," he told the Tuttosport newspaper. "They were aware of this fact for a week but they continued in their attempt to sell me until the very end. This is the truth. Luciano Moggi (Juventus' director general) has got nothing to do with this situation at all."
The Czech Republic ace has now remained at the Stadio Friuli but there are suggestions that he could be frozen out of the squad. "I don't think or fear that will happen because that will only damage the team at the end of the day," he noted.
Jankulovski's stay at Udine though could be brief seeing as the transfer window opens again in January. "I don't know what will happen in the New Year," he continued. "I don't even want to think about that right now."
Moldova 0 - 1 Italy
Alessandro Del Piero has answered his Italy critics with a winning goal in Moldova as they maintain their 100 per cent record in qualifying. Marcello Lippi made five changes from the side that beat Norway 2-1 at the weekend, removing both goalscorers Daniele De Rossi and Luca Toni.
Alessandro Del Piero made his comeback after missing that opener with a calf problem, while Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo and Aimo Diana also stepped in. Gianluca Zambrotta was returned to a fullback role, while Stefano Fiore, Giuseppe Favalli and Fabrizio Miccoli sat on the bench.
The tie was moved to Chisinau due to security fears, but the heavy rainfall made the pitch difficult to play passing football on.
Italy had an incredible chance to open the scoring on 4 minutes when Gilardino managed to hook a loose ball back towards the unmarked Diana, but he hit it with his shin and turned over an open goal from six yards.
Moldova were aggressive and Alessandro Nesta needed all of his pace to catch Covalciuc and neutralise his counter-attack. Soon after they found space down the left flank and Rogaciov's angled drive was just wide of the far post.
A great team move on the edge of the box saw Del Piero earn a corner, and on the resulting Pirlo set-piece Del Piero's glancing header struck the far post with the goalkeeper beaten. Zambrotta almost took full advantage of a defensive error, only for Catinsus to close him down as he was preparing to pull the trigger.
Yet it was Moldova who went even closer on the half-hour mark when Buffon parried a diving Covalciuc header on to the post, then scrambled it back just as it was on top of the line. The local fans insisted it had already crossed over, but replays show the ball had not completely gone into the goal.
Italy survived the scare and broke the deadlock two minutes later with Alessandro Del Piero. Gilardino did well to draw two defenders away and cut across for the captain who placed a precise low left-foot drive into the far corner of the net. It was the much-criticised Juve man's first Italy goal from open play since June 2003.
It was so nearly 2-0 a few moments later, as a team move that included Del Piero, Gilardino and Marco Materazzi was headed inches wide by Diana. Then Daniele Bonera hit his low cross a bit too hard, leaving both Gilardino and Del Piero stranded.
Buffon was called into the first save of the second half as he flew across the face of goal to push out a fierce Lascenov free kick. On the resulting corner Bursuc fired inches wide of the upright.
Gattuso's ambitious chip was plucked out of the top corner by Hmaruc, then the Milan midfielder was hacked down by Dadu, who was booked within minutes of stepping on to the pitch. Dadu was an unsuccessful substitute for Moldova, as he picked up two yellow cards in the 15 minutes he spent on the field.
Lippi made his first substitution with just 17 minutes to go, replacing Ambrosini with fullback Massimo Oddo and pushing Zambrotta back into midfield. Luca Toni, who bagged the winner against Norway on Saturday, took over from Gilardino for the closing stages of the game.
Del Piero continued to impress and his acrobatic volley was pushed out with some difficulty by a Hmaruc reaction save. Manuele Blasi replaced Daniele Bonera to shore up the midfield in the final minutes. Deep into stoppages, Gattuso and Materazzi combined to block Moldova's last ditch attempt at an equaliser following a defensive error.
Moldova: Hmaruc; Lungu, Catinsus, Priganiuc, Olexic; Covalciuc, Lascenov, Bursuc, Ivanov; Miterev (Dadu 62), Rogaciov (Cebotari 80)
Italy: Buffon; Bonera (Blasi 83), Materazzi, Nesta, Zambrotta; Gattuso, Ambrosini (Oddo 73), Pirlo, Diana; Del Piero, Gilardino (Toni 79)
Lippi: Concentration is key
Marcello Lippi admits Italy had Gigi Buffon to thank in Moldova, while the players note that concentration paved the way to success.
"The regret is we weren't able to close up the game early on with that upright and other good scoring opportunities," commented the Coach after their 1-0 win, "so we ended up running risks with Buffon brilliantly saving."
Del Piero had also thumped the woodwork in the first half, while Aimo Diana missed two open goals, leaving the result in doubt until the final stages.
"After Saturday's game, this is nonetheless a good performance that bodes well for the future," added Lippi. "Del Piero's goal was good for Italy, but he also needed it after a difficult period."
The Juventus captain had been bitterly criticised in the press and by former Bianconeri teammates Fabrizio Miccoli and Marco Di Vaio, but answered his critics with this winning goal.
Italy have now picked up six points from two games in World Cup qualifying, all of it done without stars Francesco Totti, Antonio Cassano and Christian Vieri. Where will they fit when they return from injury?
"Let us enjoy these two victories and rest for a month, but world class players never cause problems."
Gianluigi Buffon proved decisive with two particularly stunning reaction saves, one on the line.
"Nowadays there aren't any easy games in international football," said the goalkeeper, "although in a couple of occasions we suffered a bit too much. I did well, but was also lucky, as the ball got stuck between the post and my hand before it could roll over the line."
The Juventus shot-stopper was also called into a decisive parry on a fierce free kick in the closing stages.
"It was a good free kick and very powerful, so I had very little time to react, but when I can help the team and the Coach I am happy. I feel good that I did my duty, though I'm a little more acerbic and upset when I don't keep a clean sheet."
The press in Italy was not particularly impressed with 'only' a 1-0 win against the minnows of the Group, but Buffon warns that this kind of attitude is what held the Nazionale back before.
"Before these matches the press treats these like training ground games, but we've been burned in the past and know you cannot face anyone with that attitude. We aren't making that mistake anymore and that is also a good sign of maturity and improvement."
"I was more nervous than usual before this game, as I know they can hold hidden dangers, especially if you don't have the right concentration. So, to make up for that possible risk, I try to really gear myself up and stay totally focused."
Buffon's club teammate Alessandro Del Piero is in the limelight for all the right reasons after his winning goal and a difficult week.
"It is certainly an important goal for Del Piero, as he was looking for a decisive strike after all the pressure that has been placed on his shoulders. He found the best way to answer those critics and we always expect the best from Ale, because that is what he is capable of."
The Azzurri Number 1 looked forward to the other Group 5 matches coming up, although with these two wins they are already stretching out a two-point lead over Slovenia.
"Italy rarely start a qualifying campaign with two wins on the trot," noted Buffon, "but we have some difficult games coming up, especially against Slovenia, although Scotland and Norway away are also tricky situations."
Aimo Diana was perhaps the guilty party when Italy failed to take the most of two golden scoring opportunities.
"I am not accustomed to playing in that support striker position," explained the Sampdoria winger, "and after the break managed to sit back a bit more. Lippi asked me to give the forward line some more depth and give back-up to the forwards."
Also in Group Five this evening, Norway were surprisingly held to a 1-1 home draw by Belarus, while Scotland played out a stalemate with Slovenia.
Atletico Madrid alerted as Tevez admits Boca Juniors exit
Atletico Madrid are continuing talks with Boca Juniors over exciting striker Carlos Tevez. A deal was almost struck for the Argentina international before the summer transfer window closed, but Tevez's exploits at the Athens Games forced Boca to pull out of negotiations over fears of a supporter backlash.
But Tevez is now prepared to move to Europe and declared yesterday: "I am very happy and contented at Boca, but for me it is more and more difficult to reject millionaire offers from Europe. I am committed to stay with Boca until the end of the season. But after that, I do not know."
Talks between Atletico officials and Boca have continued this week.
Milan ponder Gilardino bid
Parma transfer chief Luca Baraldi has failed to rule out a Milan move for Alberto Gilardino next summer.
"We are just thinking about this season right now," stated the Stadio Tardini official on Wednesday. "Gilardino has decided to stay at Parma and he's satisfied with the decision which he has taken. This is of great satisfaction to us as it was always our objective to keep a competitive squad together here."
Gilardino hit the headlines last season after he netted an amazing 23 League goals for the Gialloblu. He then helped the Under-21 side win the European Championship and an Olympic Bronze medal. That saw him heavily linked with moves to both Roma and Juventus but he decided to extend his Parma deal until 2007 instead.
However, speculation in the peninsula suggests that Milan have already contacted the club regarding a future offer. The reigning Italian champions are apparently pondering a bid in an effort to land him for the 2005/06 season.
Agliardi joins Azzurri squad
Italy boss Marcello Lippi has called up U-21 'keeper Federico Agliardi ahead of tonight's clash against Moldova. The Brescia youngster impressed in the Azzurrini's 1-0 win last night before being told of his surprise promotion.
It is understood that neither Gigi Buffon or Ivan Pelizzoli are injured, but Lippi wants to take a closer look at the 21-year-old shot-stopper. Agliardi, who made a string of fine saves against Moldova on Tuesday evening, will train with the rest of the squad this morning.
Azzurrini lucky says Gentile
Claudio Gentile has admitted that his Under-21 boys were fortunate to collect a 1-0 win over Moldova. The unemployed Floro Flores netted a 93rd minute winner but the Coach was far from impressed with the performance.
"We had to really toil," commented the Juventus legend. "We could have scored much earlier even if we were lucky to not concede in certain situations. It wasn't easy to win on such a difficult pitch. Fortunately Floro gave us this great gift right at the end.
"Nevertheless, the boys need to understand that in order to win games you need to be fully focused and play with humility."
The Azzurrini were confident of victory last night, especially after their splendid display in the 2-0 win over Norway last week. But most of the team disappointed in a game where goalkeeper Federico Agliardi made two fine saves in the last 10 minutes.
It wasn't until Gentile brought Floro Flores on as a substitute that things started to improve slightly.
"This is a difficult moment for me and I just hope that this goal coincides with a more positive future," said the scorer. The striker, 21, is currently without a club after Napoli were forced to start a new era in Serie C1 following their financial collapse.
Ajax's Maxwell closer to Juventus
Speculation linking Ajax wing-back Maxwell with Juventus is gathering pace. Juve are keen to sign the Brazilian in January and director general Luciano Moggi has already asked Zlatan Ibrahimovic about the left-sided midfielder.
Ajax signed Filipe Kasmirski on-loan from Figueirense last week and the 19 year-old is seen as a readymade replacement for Maxwell.
Buffon happy at Juve
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has pledged his long-term future to the club. The Italian international insists he has no desire to try his luck in a different league, as he is happy in Turin. Buffon even hinted that he may hang up his gloves when his current Juventus contract expires in 2009.
"After being at Juve, it's difficult to improve. Right now, I don't want any foreign experiences and I'm not curious about a different football from ours," said Buffon. "And then, I have a contract which expires in 2009 - it might be enough."
Vialli backs Old Lady
Gianluca Vialli expects former club Juventus to be serious contenders for Lo Scudetto this season.
"Juve made a great move by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic because they needed an alternative for David Trezeguet," he stated. "The other new players (such as Emerson and Fabio Cannavaro) have definitely helped to narrow the gap in quality between themselves and Milan."
The arrival of the giant Swede from Ajax has been heavily praised by many in the game, but how will Juve play with him in the side?
"That will be up to Fabio Capello to decide but I'm certain that he will find the right balance," continued the former Chelsea boss. "Alex Del Piero? He is the symbol of Juventus and he'll be able to calmly play his own game with so many quality players around him."
Yet Vialli also expects two other teams to fight for the title in the new campaign. "Inter are a great squad and Roberto Mancini has what is needed to do well," he added. "Roma are also in with a chance because I don't think they have been weakened despite the loss of Emerson and Walter Samuel."
Meanwhile, Ajax boss Ronald Koeman has expressed his disappointment at losing Ibrahimovic. "It is a major blow, especially as we weren't able to bring in anybody to replace him," said the Dutchman. "I couldn't block the transfer because it is useless to keep a player in a squad who is not motivated.
"We play Juventus in the Champions' League very soon without him and there is the risk that we will have a number of difficulties against them."
Del Piero in, De Rossi out
Alex Del Piero will start against Moldova on Wednesday but the bench awaits for Daniele De Rossi. Boss Marcello Lippi has confirmed that the No 10 will return to the line up after missing the Norway game.
"I will make five changes to the team that faced Norway and Del Piero will start," said the Coach. "Everyone here wants to prove a point and many of the players got that chance at the weekend. Alex didn't though as he was recovering from a slight fitness problem. He can demonstrate his ability tomorrow."
Yet midfielder De Rossi, who marked his debut with a goal against the Scandinavians, is set to be dropped despite his impressive display.
"I've taken into consideration a lot of elements with regards to the changes," continued Lippi. "It could do a player of 21 years good to be left out of the side after playing so well. You need courage to give these players a chance but you also need to look after them."
The Azzurri started their World Cup campaign with a victory and Lippi is eager for a second consecutive win. "If we can be as focused as the last game and we don't snub Moldova then we can end these ten days of hard work with six points," he concluded.
Lippi was giving little away with regards to his probable starting XI by mixing up his squad in their final open training session.
Italy possible: Buffon; Bonera, Nesta, Materazzi, Favalli; Diana, Ambrosini, Pirlo, Zambrotta, Del Piero, Corradi
Lippi opts for Del Piero
Alex Del Piero is expected to partner Bernardo Corradi in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Moldova. The Juventus ace didn't feature in the 2-1 win over Norway at the weekend but he's set to return to the side after shaking off an injury.
"I'm feeling good and I'm happy with my physical condition," said the No 10. "That is the only thing that interests me."
The Azzurri completed their first training session in Moldova last night where some clues were left by boss Marcello Lippi. Del Piero was tried in attack alongside Corradi, which suggests they will be Italy's striking duo tomorrow evening.
Lippi has already admitted that he could make up to five changes to the side that won on Saturday. Most of the alterations are likely to take place in midfield with Aimo Diana, Massimo Ambrosini and Andrea Pirlo all in contention for a starting shirt.
There is also the possibility that Gianluca Zambrotta could be used as a left-back again after playing in midfield against Norway. If that happens then expect Stefano Fiore to be fielded on the left of midfield rather than the right.
Gilardino on the defensive
Alberto Gilardino has hit back at his critics who were not impressed with his Azzurri debut on Saturday. Much was expected from the youngster given his amazing last 12 months but he struggled against Norway in the 2-1 victory.
"Maybe you were all too accustomed to my goals," said the striker. "Yet it is possible for me to play a game without scoring. I've netted for all the teams who I have played for but it is difficult to score here, even in training."
Gilardino netted 23 League goals for Parma last season, as well as helping the Under-21 side win the European title and a Bronze medal at the Olympics.
"I'm not 100 per cent in form right now but I was very motivated against Norway," he continued. "I know that my performance wasn't sensational but the emotion of the occasion and the quality of the pitch didn't help. But I am happy with the work I've done over the past week and that we won the game."
Gilardino is eager for a second chance against Moldova but he'll probably start the match on the bench. "It would be important to feature again, especially alongside a player like Alex Del Piero," he added. "Yet the Coach has told me that he will change things so I will just have to wait and see."
Moldova 0 - 1 Italy
The Azzurrini left it late in Moldova, as after a catalogue of errors substitute Antonio Floro Flores finally scored the injury time winner.
Coach Claudio Gentile made only one change to the side that had comfortably beaten Norway 2-0 in their opening qualifier on Friday, as Piacenza's Simone Pepe stepped in for the suspended Rolando Bianchi.
Moldova may be the minnows of this Group, but they had a strong start and pushed the Azzurrini back into their own half. Atalanta starlet Giampaolo Pazzini eased the pressure with a long-range effort that was just wide, while goalkeeper Phius pushed a dangerous Alessandro Rosina cross out for a corner.
Josan was the home side's most alert player and he went close with a shot from 25 metres, then Doros saw his effort saved, but Italy finally began to look dangerous on the half-hour mark.
Marco Donadel's searching pass was slammed wide of the post by Pepe, then moments later Rosina took advantage of a defensive error when the goalkeeper completely missed a simple cross only to be kept out by Bordian's decisive goalline clearance.
The second half started in a similar vein, as Rosina left the 'keeper for dead and pulled back for Pazzini, but incredibly the Atalanta man managed to fire wide of the open goal.
Pepe and Riccardo Montolivo continued to make glaring errors in front of goal and the pressure on Moldova was not made to count. On 66 minutes Aquilani's pass even found Rosina completely unmarked in the area, but still the Parma man couldn't get his shot on target.
Something had to be done to spice up this ragged attack force, so former Napoli sensation Antonio Floro Flores replaced a disappointing Pepe. Aquilani wasted another golden opportunity, then the referee waved play on when Giorgio Chiellini fell in the penalty area.
This inevitably left Italy unbalanced and Moldova almost sneaked a winner on the counter-attack, but Federico Agliardi timed his run perfectly and used his full height to close down Popovici. The Brescia goalkeeper also flew to palm out a Gatcan free kick as the home side tried to take advantage of this incredible number of errors.
However, it was Italy who had the last laugh as deep into stoppages substitute Floro Flores popped up with the winning goal. A Cesare Bovo free kick was touched on by Chiellini and nodded in by the ex-Napoli and Sampdoria striker.
Also in Group 5 this evening, Belarus grabbed a shock 3-2 victory in Norway.
Moldova U21: Phius; Bordian, Golovatenco, Bulgaru, Epureanu; Onich, Gatcan, Iosan, Chalinkof; Porfireanu (Japalau 72), Doros (Popovici 63)
Italy U21: Agliardi; Ferronetti, Bovo, Potenza, Chiellini; Rosina, Aquilani (Loviso 83), Donadel, Montolivo; Pazzini, Pepe (Floro Flores 73)
The truth about Marek
Udinese have revealed what they claim is the truth about why Marek Jankulovski didn't join Juventus.
Turin transfer chief Luciano Moggi stated that they had offered the Friuli side £2.5m for a co-ownership deal. Yet Udine chief Giampaolo Pozzo insists that is simply not true, even threatening to take Moggi to court over the whole situation.
"They asked us for him on loan with the option of signing him outright later," revealed Pozzo. "If they wanted that type of move it is obvious that they don't believe in the player. They did the same thing three years ago when they offered us Nicola Amoruso in a straight swap for Roberto Muzzi."
Pozzo then claimed that the Czech ace had accepted a move to CSKA Moscow before a re-think. "The move was done after he agreed a five-year deal," added the Bianconeri chief. "He'd already said goodbye to his teammates but then he changed his mind."
So what does the future hold for Jankulovski, who is now being tipped for a January move away? "He's under contract for another two years and we could even extend that," added Pozzo. "Otherwise, he needs to find himself another club."
Udinese president slams Juventus over Jankulovski
Udinese president Giampaolo Pozzo has blasted Juventus and their director general Luciano Moggi. Pozzo is furious with Moggi's push for midfielder Marek Jankulovski, which led the Czech Republic ace to reject an offer from CSKA Moscow.
"I denounce Moggi," barked Pozzo. "We had an agreement with CSKA, but he said no - because of Juventus. But they weren't interested in buying him, or even a co-ownership agreement. They just wanted him on-loan - how is that good business?"
Blasi on a high
Juventus ace Manuele Blasi says he's now living a dream after last season's nightmare campaign. The midfielder was suspended last term for failing a drug test, while on loan at Parma, but he's archived those difficulties now.
"I can't moan," he stated. "I was recalled to Juventus over the summer and now I'm in the Italian national squad. I can't ask for more."
Blasi has had an impressive pre-season in Turin but he's aware that he must continue to improve or face life on the bench.
"I know that I'm in competition with a great player like Alessio Tacchinardi at Juventus for a starting shirt," he noted. "Yet the season will be a long one and I'm sure there will be space for everyone. I've not come here to steal anyone's jersey.
"I'm just aiming to be ready when I'm called upon for both my club and my country from now on."
The former Under-21 international was also asked for his opinion on the captures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabio Cannavaro. "I don't really need to make a comment because it is clear to everyone that they are two excellent signings," he added.
Ibrahimovic had other offers
Juventus beat two unnamed clubs to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Dutch giants Ajax last week. "I had offers from two other clubs but I chose Juve," he told Sportbladet. "It was always my intention to play for the Bianconeri and happily they wanted me."
The striker was a surprise £11.5m signing and he's really looking forward to starting his Italian adventure. "It will probably be harder for me here than in Holland but it is an honour for me to play with and against great players," he continued.
"I think we have a good opportunity to win both the Italian championship and the Champions' League."
It is understood that Roma were very interested in the player after being linked with him for almost two years. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic underlined his potential by scoring four goals in Sweden's 7-0 win over Malta on Saturday.
"I dedicate the goals to my sister," he added. "It was important that we got our World Cup campaign off to the best possible start."
Moldova test for Azzurrini
Claudio Gentile's Under-21 side will be looking for another victory as they face Moldova on Tuesday. The new-look Azzurrini won their first Euro qualifying game, 2-0 against Norway on Friday, and will be confident of three more points this evening.
The Coach will keep faith with the same side even if Simone Pepe replaces the suspended Rolando Bianchi. "I'm making few changes because this side needs to get to know each other," said Gentile. "With time we will improve as a team."
Italy U-21 probable: Agliardi; Ferronetti, Bovo, Potenza, Chiellini; Rosina, Donadel, Aquilani, Montolivo; Pepe, Pazzini
AC Milan tracking Italy U21 starlets
AC Milan are keeping tabs on two of Claudio Gentile's Italy U21 stars. Atalanta striker Riccardo Montolivo and Reggina winger Giandomenico Mesto are both on Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani's shopping list.
Both players could be signed when the winter market opens in January, though Atalanta are believed to have told Milan they won't consider selling Montolivo until at least the end of this season.
De Rossi cool on Roma exit talk
Italy's new star, AS Roma winger Daniele De Rossi, has played down speculation linking him with Europe's biggest clubs. Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan are all tracking the left-sided attacker, who admitted yesterday: "I still do not feel like an established player.
"The national team has a group of great players, who have shown me up close how far I have to go to reach their level. My future? I was not on the market before and I am not now. I have signed a contract until 2006. It could go well for me, or badly, I do not know.
"But I do not have any intention to leave: I want to play for the Giallorossa."
Zlatan reveals other offers
Juventus new boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he rejected offers from other clubs to join the Bianconeri. The Swedish international completed his move from Ajax to Juventus just before the close of the transfer window on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old admitted once Juve came in for him his choice was easy.
"There were other clubs who were interested, but I wanted to join Juventus and Juventus wanted me," Ibrahimovic told Sportbladet. "It can hardly get bigger and it is an honour for me to get to play with the best and get bigger chances to win titles and the Champions League."
Ibrahimovic paid tribute to Ajax and boss Ronald Koeman for helping develop into the player he is. "But I have got a lot to thank Ajax for and Ronald Koeman has had a big impact on who I am today," added Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic: I turned down 2 offers for Juventus
Former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he turned down two serious offers to join Juventus last week. The Swede signed in a £10 million deal and confirmed to Sportbladet: "I had offers from two other two clubs, but I have chosen Juve.
"I have always intended to play for the Bianconeri and they have wanted me. Perhaps it will be harder than in Holland, but for me it is an honor to play with and against great players. We have great possibilities to win the championship and Champions League."
Del Piero ready for Italy return
Alessandro Del Piero scored twice in today's test and looks likely to make his comeback against Moldova on Wednesday.
The Juventus captain was ruled out of the 2-1 win over Norway due to a calf problem, but has now fully recovered. He bagged a brace in a game between ranks that mixed Italy players with Palermo's youth team, while Bernardo Corradi scored the other goals in the 2-2 draw.
Del Piero seems set to start in next week's game, as he was tested out in partnerships with both Corradi and Luca Toni. The Palermo forward did not score, but struck the woodwork twice.
Francesco Totti was on the sidelines after medical staff ruled he would not recover from a bruised ankle in time for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier in Chisinau. He will return to Rome on Monday morning, when the rest of the squad flies out to Moldova.
"We used up a lot of psychological and physical energy during the Norway game," explained Marcello Lippi, "so I will make five or six changes from that starting eleven, although I won't be able to say which ones quite yet."
Del Piero seems almost certain to step in for Fabrizio Miccoli, while Luca Toni might have earned himself a spot in the starting line-up after his winning goal against Norway.
Lippi was also at pains to point out that there was no favouritism for Del Piero or Totti.
"World class players are to be respected, but to give their best they must not have all the pressure on their shoulders. Nobody who comes into the Azzurri squad should be made to feel excessive responsibility."
Former Italy boss Giovanni Trapattoni came in for a great deal of criticism for singling out Totti as the centre of his squad, prompting disgruntled reactions from the other players.
"I spoke with Totti and there was no need to risk anyone if they are not 100 per cent fit, just as we didn't risk Del Piero against Norway. Italy can manage perfectly well without them, as we showed on Saturday."
Lippi launches Club Azzurri
Marcello Lippi explains the secret of Italy's victory was to train like a club, but he concedes Francesco Totti will miss the Moldova game.
"I have read the report on Totti's ankle injury," noted the tactician, "and today we will evaluate what is to be done along with the medical staff."
The Roma captain has now concluded the three-match ban handed down during Euro 2004, but a sprained ankle is set to extend his international absence. That matters little to the Azzurri right now, as they are celebrating a 2-1 victory over Norway in their opening World Cup qualifier.
"I want to thank the crowd in Palermo," continued Lippi, "as their support throughout the game, but especially straight after we conceded that goal after just 43 seconds, gave us the strength to get right back into it.
"That John Carew strike so early on could have felled a bull, but the supporters just got even louder and I am glad we were able to give them a win at the end of it."
The former Juventus boss had expressed concerns at the start of this new adventure that he wouldn't be able to adapt to the international scene, so he meshed the two traditions.
"This week I really felt like a Coach rather than a team selector. We all worked together and prepared this match in every detail, leaving no stone unturned. All the players were wonderful and I praise every one of them, but I must also say I am very happy with my own performance."
Lippi's choices proved decisive, as debutante Daniele De Rossi scored the equaliser before substitute Luca Toni's late winner.
"De Rossi's performance was exceptional, but I have always admired him, ever since I first saw him play. Alberto Gilardino did his work well and will have more opportunities to prove himself.
"Toni was not here purely to appease the Palermo fans, as I needed two strong men upfront in the closing stages when we were beginning to tire. It was a tactic that worked."
The 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a strong start for the Azzurri, not least because they are notoriously sluggish in the opening stages.
"I was very eager to get a good result here and am very, very, very satisfied," concluded the Coach. "Norway were dangerous opponents, especially now as they are in the middle of their season, but after a tricky start we relaxed and played some very good football."
Lippi: Roma's De Rossi a future star
Italy coach Marcello Lippi is convinced AS Roma winger Daniele De Rossi can develop into a world class star after his superb performance against Norway on Saturday.
"De Rossi has played an outstanding game on the left-side," said Lippi yesterday. "For three years he has been a talent we have all been watching; he has enthusiasm, he wants to win and above all has great ability. But I'm happy with all the players and with their reaction after we conceded a goal against the Norwegians."
Gattuso won over by Italy
Gennaro Gattuso has been among Italy's strongest critics, but was won over by the new team spirit.
"It was tough," he said after their 2-1 win, "but I saw a real willingness to make sacrifices and work hard from every member of the team. I was particularly happy with that aspect of it as well as the overall standard of football."
The Milan man had slammed his teammates for being "a laughing stock" and "wastes of space" following their 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 campaigns.
"I tried to give my usual contribution in the middle of the park and played a Gattuso style game," he told 'Milan Channel' this afternoon. "My job is to give the side intensity and get the ball back for my teammates. I am satisfied with the whole match."
Gattuso is also expected to start Wednesday's World Cup qualifier in Moldova, but Francesco Totti's presence is now ruled out. Meanwhile, Francesco Totti has been sent home. Totti was set to make his comeback after a three-match ban - handed down for spitting at Denmark's Christian Poulsen on June 14 - expired.
The Roma star flew in to Palermo this afternoon after suffering an ankle injury during a friendly encounter with his club side and medical staff ascertained the bruising to his right ankle was too heavy to make this trip.
Real Madrid target Liverpool's Gerrard
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has set his sights on Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Club insiders have told AS that Gerrard is Real's prime target to stiffen the team's midfield after they missed out on Arsenal's Patrick Vieira over the summer.
Chelsea almost landed Gerrard at the end of the European Championships, only for Spanish coach Rafa Benitez to convince him to stay at Anfield. But Real are aware that Gerrard, like Michael Owen, wants to win trophies and if Liverpool do not show progress this season under Benitez then he is likely to seek a move away from Anfield.
Real's interest in Gerrard isn't new. Indeed, Vicente del Bosque's parting gesture from Madrid was to urge the board to move for the England ace in the summer of 2002/03.
Real Madrid in contact with AS Roma's Totti
Real Madrid intermediaries have made contact with AS Roma attacker Francesco Totti. The Italian ace is Real president Florentino Perez's prime galactico target for next summer. Totti's lawyer has already been in contact with Real and informed him that Perez is happy to discuss terms with Totti over the course of the season.
The Roma captain's current deal has less than two years to run and if he isn't secured to a new deal then next summer's transfer window will represent the last time the Italian club can cash in on him.
Mascherano in Real Madrid sights
Real Madrid are considering a January move for River Plate midfielder Javier Mascherano. Only last week the Olympic gold medallist declared his preferred move to Europe would be to Real, over AC Milan and Arsenal.
Real are aware that Mascherano does not have a European passport, but have learned his Italian ancestry should see him gain qualifications relatively easily.
If coach Jose Antonio Camacho's campaign begins to wobble in the early part of the season, then Real will move for Mascherano ahead of the transfer window reopening over Christmas.
Juventus keep tabs on Ajax's Maxwell
Juventus are tracking Ajax wing-back Maxwell. The Brazilian international has been a long-term target for Juve director general Luciano Moggi. After capturing Zlatan Ibrahimovic last week, Juve now want former Ajax teammate Maxwell and will move for the left-sided midfielder in January.
Its been suggested Juve will seek to buy Maxwell outright during the winter market and then loan him immediately back to Ajax for the rest of the season.
Italy 2 - 1 Norway
New boys Daniele De Rossi and Luca Toni recovered from a disastrous start to give Italy a confident opening win in the World Cup qualifiers.
Marcello Lippi's era began in earnest with this World Cup qualifier against Norway. The Coach was forced to do without the suspended Francesco Totti, while Antonio Cassano, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Cannavaro are injured.
This gave Olympics heroes Alberto Gilardino and Daniele De Rossi their senior international debuts and both were in the starting eleven. Fabrizio Miccoli replaced his former Juve teammate Del Piero upfront, while Gianluca Zambrotta was pushed forward on to the left flank.
The Sicilian crowd at the Stadio Renzo Barbera gave a passionate welcome to the team, singing so loudly to the national anthem that they drowned out the band. There was also a minute's silence for the victims of the terrorist acts in Russia.
It was an appalling start, as within 45 seconds of the starting whistle former Roma striker John Carew opened the scoring for Norway. The ball was lost in midfield and Marco Materazzi was too slow in closing down the giant Norwegian, allowing him to place an angled drive past Gianluigi Buffon.
The Azzurri fought back immediately and Miccoli's splendid half-volley brought a great save out of Johnsen.
But it was a debutante who drew level after just four minutes of play, as a Giuseppe Favalli low cross flew past everyone until Daniele De Rossi flicked it into the net with the outside of his right foot. The 21-year-old Roma midfielder almost retired from football in April after suffering from a recurring hernia problem, but marked his senior international debut with a well-taken strike.
Norweian midfielder Peter Rudi was booked after 12 minutes for a challenge from behind on the lively Miccoli. The new Fiorentina signing again tested goalkeeper Johnsen from close range, then his through ball found Stefano Fiore only for his shot to be blocked at the near post.
Italy were gradually increasing the pressure as the first half wore on and Fiore's long-range strike shook the side-netting. Moments later a series of disastrous defensive errors handed Giuseppe Favalli the ball on the six-yard box, but his cutback to Miccoli was intercepted.
The personal duel between Miccoli and Johnsen continued when the 'keeper flew to palm out his curling free kick with one hand, then Gennaro Gattuso's fierce drive from almost 20 metres was deflected on to the upright and Miccoli turned in the loose ball, but it was disallowed due to a correct offside decision.
Captain Alessandro Nesta performed a crucial challenge on Carew as he charged into the box, but Italy were dominating and at the other end a quiet Gilardino failed to make the most of a good opportunity as his first touch let him down. Zambrotta cut towards the centre and his low drive forced Johnsen into a tricky push round the post.
Norway were perhaps even more negative at the start of the second half, camping out entirely in their own half as the Azzurri passed the ball around in search of an opening.
On the hour mark Miccoli caught on to a fine Fiore pass and attempted to flick it over the goalkeeper, but Johnsen was able to charge him down. Soon after Fiore went for goal himself and his powerful angled drive was parried by the busy Norwegian goalkeeper.
Bernardo Corradi replaced a very quiet Gilardino, while Sampdoria's Aimo Diana took over from Favalli. This pushed Zambrotta back into his right-back role, moving Fiore over to the other flank.
Norway's first shot since the first minute came after 70 and Buffon got down well to parry Rudi's effort from a corner kick at the near post.
The Stadio Barbera went wild when Luca Toni was given his competitive debut in place of the increasingly tired Miccoli.
The Palermo forward made an immediate impact and within moments of coming on he nodded Fiore's pass across to Aimo Diana, but the Sampdoria man was unable to get a clean header on it, perhaps due to a push from behind by defender Johnsen. The linesman raised his flag for an Italian foul and play resumed with a Norwegian free kick.
The Scandinavians were a little more confident towards the end and Buffon jumped on to the feet of Rusveld, but the referee waved away more penalty appeals after Zambrotta appeared to be pushed to the ground as he tried to dribble round a defender. Then Diana's half-volley landed on the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Italy were dominating and eventually took the lead 11 minutes from time with local hero Luca Toni. Zambrotta's low pass set the striker running and he delicately redirected it through the goalkeeper's legs. Toni is a hero in Palermo after his 30 goals in Serie B last season and soaked up the praise of the home fans.
There was real enthusiasm in the Azzurri squad and Diana combined with Toni for the winger's fierce drive that whistled past the upright, but that late goal was enough to ensure a deserved victory.
Lippi lets young guns shine
Marcello Lippi, Daniele De Rossi and Luca Toni warn that the star names will find it tough to break back into the Italy squad after the win over Norway.
"The lads played well and I told them they had to relax," explained Lippi after the 2-1 victory, "as working as hard as they did throughout the week, they had to deserve a good result at the end of it."
Norway were among the most fearsome opponents in Group 5, but Italy outplayed them for long stretches. "It was important to beat a tough outfit that is on good form at the moment, so this is a great result for us."
Lippi's era had started on the wrong foot with a humiliating 2-0 friendly defeat in Iceland and John Carew's goal here after just 43 seconds, but the Azzurri fought back immediately.
"We played very well," added Lippi, "and with great spirit to recover from a terrible start. The youngsters were all impressive and not at all out of their depth."
The new generation of players proved decisive, as Daniele De Rossi scored the equaliser on his senior debut, while Luca Toni's winner came in only his second Azzurri cap.
"Tonight was a very special occasion for me and everyone," said the 21-year-old Roma midfielder. "We played with great intensity, the fans enjoyed themselves and we picked up three very important points."
"I was helped out a great deal by my teammates, especially psychologically throughout the week. On the field everyone does their job and it went well."
It was a dreadful start with a goal conceded after 43 seconds, but De Rossi pounced just moments later with a crucial strike.
"You try to maintain concentration and keep your cool, but we were fortunate to score the equaliser so quickly. I often push forward, but I can do that because there are teammates behind me who I know can support this kind of tactic."
Lippi had suggested that he wanted the senior squad to show the same kind of approach and passion found in the Under-21 and Olympic teams, but De Rossi concedes he could be pushed out of the side when star names return to full fitness.
"We played with heart tonight and when the great champions come back to the side they can only help us get better. I am very happy with my performance, but I realise there are players who have a more impressive CV who are waiting to come back in, so whether I play against Moldova or not doesn't matter."
Luca Toni had made his Azzurri debut in the Iceland defeat, but in his first competitive match hit the back of the net within minutes of stepping on to the field.
"It was a dream come true to make my competitive international debut on my home ground and score is the best you can ask for," said the Palermo hitman. "The fans gave me so much support that I couldn't help but score."
The former Brescia star flicked a Gianluca Zambrotta pass through the Norwegian goalkeeper's legs.
"I saw the pass come towards me and gave it just the tiniest touch, but when it has to go in it goes in! I expect Lippi was happy, as Italy played great football and deserved to win this match."
Toni was once earmarked as the new Christian Vieri, so with the Inter forward still struggling with injuries he has no intention of stepping back into the shadows.
"We have a real desire to make ourselves known, as playing for the Italy squad is the ultimate for every player. Now that we're here, we have every intention of proving our worth and making the most of this opportunity. It is up to the Coach to choose which forward is in the best form right now."
Meanwhile, in the other Group 5 game tonight Slovenia hammered Moldova 3-0 with an Acimovic hat-trick.
Totti to miss Moldova trip?
Francesco Totti is a real risk for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier in Moldova after suffering an ankle injury. The Roma captain was suspended for the Group 5 opener against Norway, sitting out the last in a three-match ban picked up during Euro 2004, but he was set to star in this week's second outing.
However, he suffered a knock to his right ankle during the 3-1 friendly win over Lodigiani and limped off with what appears to be a slight sprain. An ice pack and rigid bandaging were applied to the affected area, but Azzurri medical staff in Palermo will decide whether or not he can make the trip out to Chisinau.
There was more bad news for Roma, as Traianos Dellas has also suffered an injury during international duty with Greece. The defender was expected to start next Sunday's Serie A opener against Fiorentina, but he could be added to a growing list of absentees that includes Matteo Ferrari, Philippe Mexes and Cristian Chivu.
Clouds hang over Moldova trip
Italy could see next week's European Under-21 and World Cup qualifiers in Moldova called off if it rains. The games were switched to the Moldovan Capital Chisinau due to security fears, but the new venue has other problems.
"If it is not possible to move to another Stadium and it happens to rain," warned FIGC Chief Franco Carraro, "the match between the Under-21 sides will not take place."
Members of the Italy staff visited the site and suggested that rain would make the pitch too muddy to play professional football on. As the same Stadium will stage two games in the space of 24 hours, there are fears that the pitch will not be able to sustain this kind of pressure.
The 2006 World Cup qualifier featuring the senior squad on the Wednesday is considered more important, so if there is bad weather the Under-21's will reschedule.
U21: Gentile cools young guns
Claudio Gentile was satisfied with the new Azzurrini debut, even though some errors almost proved very costly indeed. "There are some things that need working on, especially in defence," warned the Coach after their 2-0 win over Norway, "but for a debut it'll do fine."
Italy embarked on the defence of their European Under-21 Championship title on Friday evening with their first qualifier for the 2006 tournament. Many of the players are new to this level and at times - particularly Rolando Bianchi's petulant red card - this inexperience was clear for all to see.
"In the second half we did everything to shoot ourselves in the foot," mused Gentile. "Certain mistakes should not be committed at this level. In any case, we have time to get to know each other better and perfect certain team moves, but I must say that this squad had a better start than the last one two years ago."
This can only bode well, as the Azzurrini who have just left the Under-21 set-up earned the European crown and a Bronze medal at the Olympics.
Cassano contract concerns Roma
Antonio Cassano's profile rose sharply after Euro 2004, but next summer could see a bidding war break out for the talented youngster. Roma paid a remarkable £20m for the 18-year-old Bari starlet in 2001, but they could lose him for far less as his contract expires in June 2006.
If a new deal is not signed, sealed a delivered over the next few months, the club would have no choice but to part company with the player at the end of this season. It's reported that Milan and Real Madrid are already prepared to make a bid for Cassano, who is still only 22 years of age, next summer.
Now that the Giallorossi have solved some of their financial woes and snapped up new Coach Rudi Voller at short notice to replace Cesare Prandelli, they can turn their attention towards ending this uncertainty.
It is reported that President Franco Sensi has already set up a meeting with agent Bozzo to work through a new contract that will tie Cassano to Roma until 2011. Meanwhile, Francesco Totti has earned high praise indeed from German legend Franz Beckenbauer.
"There are many star players in Italy," commented the former player, "but the only one I would bring to Bayern Munich would be Totti. I know him well and he deserves to win the Balon d'Or."
Beckenbauer has another reason to watch Roma this season. "Voller is an excellent choice, as he was a great player and remains a wonderful man and Coach."
Parma's Gilardino drops AC Milan hint
Parma striker Alberto Gilardino has hinted he wants a move to AC Milan. The Italy international has admitted he'd like to play alongside Milan ace Andrei Shevchenko in the future.
Milan have been linked with a January bid for Gilardino and the youngster said: "Shevchenko is a great champion and someone who will also allow others to play. Yes, I believe we could form a great partnership together, though now is not the time to speak of such things.
"I am with Parma and I'm happy to stay."
Italy 2 - 0 Norway
Claudio Gentile's all-new Azzurrini got off to a flying start with a 2-0 victory over Norway, even if it was marred by a petulant red card.
Gentile opened this new Azzurrini era with a European U-21 Championship qualifier against their Norwegian counterparts. The Under-21 squad is almost entirely changed every two years and Gentile's boys were embarking on a challenge to defend the title won in May.
There were a few members of the side that conquered the Bronze Olympic medal this summer, such as Cesare Bovo and Marco Donadel, but the basis of the new squad was Atalanta duo Giampaolo Pazzini and Riccardo Montolivo.
The Azzurrini were immediately aggressive with a series of saved efforts from Giorgio Chiellini, Montolivo and Rolando Bianchi within the opening minutes.
The breakthrough came after 19 minutes of play, as 20-year-old Roma youngster Alberto Aquilani first saw an effort parried, then met the loose ball with a right-foot finish to give Italy the deserved lead.
They maintained the pressure with saves on Bianchi's header and Montolivo's fierce strike, but Norwegian goalkeeper Larsen could do nothing on Pazzini's header as it flew in under the crossbar.
Parma midfielder Rosina was particularly lively and his cross was met by Donadel's header, forcing Larsen into a save with the aid of the crossbar.
However, there was a heavy blow to the Azzurrini when Cagliari man Bianchi picked up two bookings in the space of four minutes. Both incidents were avoidable, as the player twice kicked the ball into the net after he was stopped for a dubious offside position.
Despite playing in ten men, Italy continued to have the better of the play and Pazzini's angled drive skimmed the far post.
Federico Agliardi's first real save came from a corner kick in the closing ten minutes of the match, but it barely troubled the Brescia shot-stopper.
Italy U21: Agliardi; Ferronetti, Bovo, Potenza, Chiellini; Rosina (Pepe 73), Donadel, Aquilani (Loviso 66), Montolivo; Bianchi, Pazzini (Floro Flores 88)
Norway U21: Larsen; Skjonsberg (Eriksen 78), Onstad, Engedal, Bertelsen; Sokolowski, Haestad; Riise (Strand 46), Olsen, Grindheim; Holm
Ref: Stanisic (Ser)
Sent off: Bianchi 65 (I)
Juventus had bumper Miguel offer rejected
Juventus had a £7 million bid for Benfica fullback Miguel rejected on Monday night, it has been revealed. The Portuguese international also had a five-year deal drawn up for him by Juve officials, but the deal never got that far after Benfica chief Luís Filipe Vieira rejected the bid.
Miguel has a buy-out clause of £10 million and Juve are expected to try again when the January market opens.
Vieri returns, but Canna struggles
Christian Vieri scored in his first start of the season for Inter, but Fabio Cannavaro's Juventus debut was less than impressive. Nerazzurri hitman Vieri has barely set foot on the playing field all summer due to a series of fitness issues, but was finally given his first start in today's friendly trip to Spezia.
The Serie C1 side took the first half lead through Rizzo's free kick, but even without their internationals Inter were more motivated after the break. Vieri wasted a couple of good chances before nodding in Rebecchi's cross to make the final score 1-1.
This friendly encounter was mainly used to test fitness levels, particularly of Francesco Coco and Andy Van Der Meyde.
A decimated Juventus side also played a friendly this afternoon, hammering Biellese 5-0. This match was notable for the official debut of Fabio Cannavaro, although the Azzurri captain is still showing the effects of a summer spent on the sidelines.
Pavel Nedved and Mauro Camoranesi were able to play large chunks of the encounter, which was particularly important as the Czech had missed an international call-up due to a knee problem. Marcelo Zalayeta bagged a brace around goals from Olivier Kapo, Ruben Olivera and Gianluca Pessotto.
Biellese 0-5 Juventus
Scorers: Zalayeta 4, 34, Kapo pen 45, Olivera 49, Pessotto 90
Juventus: Bonnefoi, Zebina (Furgato 83), Thuram, Cannavaro (Iuliano 46), Birindelli (Ferrara 46), Camoranesi (Pessotto 75), Emerson (Zammuto 83), Tacchinardi (Olivera 46), Kapo, Nedved, Zalayeta
Spezia 1-1 Inter
Scorers: Rizzo 21 (S), Vieri 73 (I)
Inter: Toldo (Fontana 46); Ze Maria, Dellafiore, Pasquale, Coco (Giani 75), Van der Meyde, Cambiasso, C Zanetti, Veron (Rebecchi 63); Vieri, Cruz (Meggiorini 77)
Why Di Vaio left Juve
Marco Di Vaio says he wanted out of Juventus because he couldn't waste another season as Alex Del Piero's reserve. The striker made the revelation today just days after the club decided to sell Fabrizio Miccoli to Fiorentina - in order to keep faith with their captain.
"Out of Del Piero and myself they decided to sacrifice me," said a disappointed Miccoli earlier this week.
Di Vaio, who joined Spanish champions Valencia for £8m, understands his former teammate's situation.
"Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival changed everything and what Miccoli said about Del Piero is true," he told Tuttosport. "I was never given the chance to start on the same level as Alex. I only played when he was injured.
"I knew that boss Marcello Lippi preferred Del Piero and I knew that he was the crowd favourite. I had to prove myself all of the time though."
Despite leaving the Old Lady, a giant of the Italian and European game, Di Vaio has no regrets. "I made the right decision," he added. "I pushed for a move because I no longer felt the faith of the club. I'm now even more convinced of my choice to leave.
"There were three of us at Juventus in competition for just one shirt. It was like that with the old Coach and the same problem would have occurred under Fabio Capello. It didn't take long for me to realise in July that out of me or Miccoli, it was I who should leave. But I never imagined that he would be sold too."
Lippi rules out Del Piero
Marcello Lippi has confirmed that Alessandro Del Piero will not start the World Cup qualifier against Norway. The Juventus ace has been hampered by a slight muscle strain this week and his name won't be on the official teamsheet.
"He won't play because he's not trained cleanly, he's been unable to work with any sort of consistency," said the tactician ahead of Saturday's match. "Will he be on the bench? We'll see. He's had a problem which he has brilliantly recovered from but he isn't ready to start."
Fabrizio Miccoli is set to replace Del Piero in the starting line-up but Lippi wasn't giving too much away regarding his probable XI.
"I've not told the squad yet who will play so I won't be telling you," he explained to journalists. "I have a lot of options available to me. The youngsters? There is a chance that Bonera, De Rossi and Gilardino will play but that isn't certain."
Lippi shuffled his pack even further on Friday after Massimo Ambrosini was selected in a practice match. The Milan man may now be picked to start in midfield alongside Gennaro Gattuso instead of De Rossi.
"I'm making no promises but the squad has worked well and with real enthusiasm," continued Lippi. "I want the players to give everything they have tomorrow night."
Lippi concluded by commenting on Arrigo Sacchi's claim that the national side needs a magician, and not a Coach, to achieve success.
"Sacchi is an alert football observer but I'm an optimist," he stated. "The side doesn't need a magician but a Coach who transmits enthusiasm, someone who has the ability to unite a group of players."
Italy possible: Buffon; Bonera, Nesta, Materazzi, Favalli; Fiore, Gattuso, Ambrosini (De Rossi), Zambrotta; Miccoli, Gilardino
Gattuso slams 'laughable' Italy
Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluigi Buffon admit the Azzurri are a laughing stock and must work to win back the respect of fans.
"Euro 2004 cut us down to size," warned the combative midfielder. "The people are sick of hearing us claim we're the best team with such great players and yet end up empty-handed every time. Up until now we've been nothing but a laughing stock."
"We must work hard to win back the hearts of the fans and prove to them that we can give 100 per cent. As for entertaining play, nobody in Europe is putting in consistently good football, all that counts is the result."
He also aimed a sideswipe at former Coach Giovanni Trapattoni following their Euro disaster.
"The problem in that tournament was not so much individual performances as some elemental errors. You cannot put 100 times more pressure on a single player, then ignore many of the others in your squad. We win and lose as a team, as proved by Greece."
Marcello Lippi's stint in charge started on a similar note, as the 2-0 friendly defeat to Iceland was a humiliating experience. "After that game we all sat around in the dressing room and looked each other in the eye. We felt like utter wastes of space. Now we must win, by hook or by crook, but we need that victory."
Gattuso aims to take out his frustrations on Norway, who come to Palermo for tonight's opening 2006 World Cup qualifier.
"So many supporters think that we players don't give our all for the Azzurri jersey," added the Milan star, "but believe me we are just as upset when the results don't come. We must prove that we put our heart and soul into international games."
Gianluigi Buffon was one of the few Azzurri to emerge with their reputation intact after the Euro 2004 debacle and painted an even more alarming scenario.
"If things keep going badly for us, we know what we senior members of the squad are risking," said the goalkeeper. "The youngsters coming in now feel more relaxed because they have nothing to lose."
Perhaps the man who runs the greatest risk is Alessandro Del Piero, who this week has been hammered in the press as a 'favourite son' by ex-Juventus stars Marco Di Vaio and Fabrizio Miccoli.
"It is time everyone stopped ganging up on Alex. The thing I cannot understand is why people want to destroy our club captain at all costs."
Del Piero's situation will not concern Lippi this evening, as the Juve man is out due to a muscular problem.
Gilardino wins Azzurri approval
Alberto Gilardino has what it takes to become a great according to three of his Azzurri teammates. The Parma man has been included in the full Italy squad for the first time and he looks likely to start against Norway on Saturday.
The youngster hit the headlines last season after he netted 44 goals in all competitions for his club and the Under-21 side.
"It is clear to everyone that Gilardino is addicted to scoring and making goals for other people," said defender Matteo Ferrari. "If he makes his debut against Norway, or even starts the game, then I am sure that he will have no problems at all."
Experienced stopper Alessandro Nesta is also convinced that the 22-year-old has a future at international level. "He was born to score goals," stated the Milan ace. Gilardino is set to be handed his chance by new boss Marcello Lippi given the injury to number one striker Christian Vieri.
"He is a player that will be very useful for us now and in the future," commented Stefano Fiore. "He is an attacker who deserves to have all the attention that he is receiving at this moment in time."
Two of Gilardino's former Under-21 colleagues are also set to start in Palermo, with Daniele De Rossi and Daniele Bonera both being tipped to be selected.
Italy probable: Buffon; Bonera (Oddo), Nesta, Materazzi, Favalli; Fiore, Gattuso, De Rossi, Zambrotta; Miccoli, Gilardino.
Security fears switch Italy qualifier
The World Cup qualifier against Moldova has been moved to a new location amid security fears, while Daniele De Rossi comments on his probable debut. The Group 5 tie was meant to be staged at Tiraspol on Wednesday September 8, but the local authorities and FIFA decided to switch the venue to the Capital Chisinau due to concerns over security.
Meanwhile, the Azzurri are preparing for tomorrow's opener against Norway and it could see the senior debut of Olympic hero De Rossi.
"To get my first cap in the starting eleven would be a dream come true," commented the midfielder, "and my desire this season is to ensure I'm a regular starter for both Italy and Roma."
The 21-year-old has climbed up the rankings quickly after winning the European U-21 Championships and a Bronze Medal in the Athens Olympics.
"I must thank my physiotherapist Pagni for this opportunity," he added, "as when I went to him in April I thought I might have to give up football entirely due to a recurring hip inflammation. Without him, I would not be here now."
Gentile sees more success
The Italian U-21 side start a new era this evening, with boss Claudio Gentile insisting they can be as successful as the last. The previous youngsters won the European Championship and Bronze at the Olympics, but the Coach believes his latest batch of players are superior.
"The spine of the team that I have available now is better than what I had two years ago," said the tactician. "I have some excellent players with great talent. They understand my philosophy and have prepared well over the last week."
Giorgio Chiellini, Cesare Bovo and Marco Donadel are the only survivors from the old side, as Daniele De Rossi has been called up to the full set-up. All three will start in tonight's Euro 2006 qualifier against Norway, which will be played in the town of Trapani.
"We fear their power which is a trademark of Scandinavian football," added the tactician. "It will be tough because every team wants to beat Italy."
Gentile hasn't revealed his starting line-up but the strike force will be made up of Cagliari ace Bianchi and Pazzani of Atalanta - two players tipped for the top.
Juventus coach Capello bought zebras for local zoo
A local zoo has revealed that Juventus coach Fabio Capello has agreed to buy them three zebras. The zebra is associated with Juve and the club's colours and was raised during conversations between Capello and the zoo's director.
"We were joking with Capello," said a spokesman, "and mentioned that we were lacking zebras. Well, a couple of days later he telephoned to say he had found a solution to our problem and that three zebras were on their way. They're promised for next week!"