Balotelli overlooked again as Quagliarella replaces Osvaldo in Italy squad

September 2nd, 2014

The Torino striker has received his first Azzurri call-up since November 2010 following the withdrawal of the Inter attacker, who has been sidelined with a hamstring problem

Mario Balotelli has once again been overlooked by Antonio Conte, with the new Italy coach having turned to Fabio Quagliarella to replace the injured Pablo Daniel Osvaldo in his squad for Thursday’s friendly against Netherlands and next week’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Norway.

Balotelli was surprisingly left out of the original 27-man panel when it was announced on Sunday but was in contention for a recall after it emerged that Osvaldo was struggling with a hamstring problem.

However, Conte has instead decided to turn to Torino striker Quagliarella, who was last called up by his country in November 2010.

Conte, of course, knows the 31-year-old well, having worked with the attacker for the duration of his three-year stint in charge of Juventus.

Quagliarella’s call-up represents the second injury-enforced change to the original squad, with versatile Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna having replaced Parma centre-half Gabriel Paletta, who pulled out with a back problem.

Italy host Netherlands in Bari on Thursday evening before travelling to Oslo to take on Euro 2016 qualification rivals Norway next Tuesday.

Shevchenko: Balotelli deserves last chance

September 2nd, 2014

The former Rossoneri star believes the striker made the right decision to move on and hopes he can redeem himself at Anfield this season

Former AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko believes Mario Balotelli deserves another chance after a difficult spell at the San Siro side and hopes the Italy international can make an impact at Liverpool.

Balotelli made a fine start to life at Milan after joining them from Manchester City in January 2013, but failed to replicate that form in 2013-14 and was sold to Liverpool this summer for €20 million.

“If Balotelli wasn’t happy at Milan and the club were not satisfied either, it was the right decision to part ways,” Shevchenko told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But I saw Mario in action at the European Championship in Ukraine and Poland two years ago and he was a fantastic player. I refuse to believe that’s all gone all of a sudden.

“Mario deserves another chance and Liverpool are giving him that chance. Liverpool are a great team and could have the ambition to win the Champions League.

“It’s now up to Balotelli to overcome his difficulties and take his fate back in his own hands again.”

The 24-year-old made his Liverpool debut in the 3-0 away win over Tottenham at the weekend, but failed to find the net on his first appearance for the Premier League side.

I'm not sending Balotelli a message – Conte

September 1st, 2014

The striker was left out of the coach’s first Italy squad but he insists he is trying to teach the 24-year-old a lesson

Italy coach Antonio Conte insists he was not trying to send a message to Mario Balotelli by omitting the striker from his first squad.

The Liverpool new boy was the most notable absentee from Conte’s selection for forthcoming fixtures against the Netherlands and Norway.

But Conte says he had no motive to leave Balotelli out of his plans, stressing players must earn the right to represent Italy.

“We have been monitoring every match,” he said. ”The call-ups are based on those we observed, with those we had footballing evidence on.

“Is it a message? I do not have to send any messages. Those who know me know how I work – I do not present gifts to anyone.

“Today I have here 26 guys and I have told them that they must earn this shirt. I will behave as I have always done, there is no pre-condition for anyone.

“Those who are in the national team should know what it takes to be here and be conscious of the weight of this shirt, its importance.”

Conte, who took over from Cesare Prandelli following the World Cup, also expressed his pride at leading his first training session on Monday.

“This is definitely a special day,” he added. ”I entered Coverciano [Italy's national training centre] for the first time with the Under-15s side and to come back now as a coach is beautiful.

“This is a centre that makes me shudder, it takes me back 30 years. It is something nice.

“It is a formative experience, a competition with myself and I am sure that I will be able to communicate my concepts.”

Italy face the Netherlands in a friendly on Thursday before kicking off their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in Norway five days later.

Rodgers backs Liverpool trio to shine for England

September 1st, 2014

The former Swansea manager has managed to create a title-challenging side with a homegrown core at Anfield, and he expects Roy Hodgson to utilise his players in the coming years

Brendan Rodgers expects Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson to be influential figures for England in the coming years.

The trio impressed on Sunday as Liverpool bounced back from a 3-1 defeat to champions Manchester City by easing to a 3-0 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Sterling opened the scoring inside eight minutes following good work from Sturridge and Henderson, and all three players earned praise from their manager after the game, with Rodgers believing England boss Roy Hodgson will benefit from their continued development.

“These are boys that are playing in a top league, with a top club and are showing great awareness, work rate and energy,” he told reporters.

“They are showing they can play in different systems as well, so they’ll be key over the coming years for Roy.”

Henderson has blossomed into one of Liverpool’s most valuable players since Rodgers’ arrival at Anfield in 2012, forming a strong partnership with former England captain Steven Gerrard in central midfield.

“He’s certainly taken on those leadership qualities – you can see his complete stature on the field,” Rodgers added. “Other than Steven, he’s played the most games since I’ve come into the club, so I obviously rate his talent very highly.”

'Balotelli was excellent' – Rodgers delight at Liverpool debut

September 1st, 2014

The striker nearly scored twice as the Reds ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Tottenham and his new manager has praised the new signings work rate on and off the field

Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for new boy Mario Balotelli after he caught the eye in Liverpool’s impressive 3-0 win at Tottenham.

The Italy striker almost enjoyed a dream debut when going close with an early header in Sunday’s Premier League clash and linked up well with Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling up front, before coming off after an hour.

Sterling, Steven Gerrard from the penalty spot and full-back Alberto Moreno scored the goals, but Balotelli also impressed his manager.

“He was excellent,” Rodgers told reporters. “I thought the two boys up front and Raheem in behind were a constant threat.

“He’s a good guy, he’s worked well this week and I think everyone could see the team effort as he was pressing as much as he could. He was very good.”

Sterling was also singled out for his contribution as Rodgers celebrated his 100th game in charge with a superb all-round display.

“I think he’s flexible and we’ve tried to develop him to not just be a wide player but to also be able to play on the inside – and I thought he was excellent,” added the Liverpool manager.

“From the inside, he can turn and he can press. Then, when we went to 4-3-3 he’s got that pace to go on the outside. It’s important for me that they have that intelligence to play in different positions and he can.”

It was especially satisfying for Rodgers to see his team bounce back from Monday’s loss at Manchester City and beat opponents who had won their first two matches of the new campaign.

“I thought we were terrific – outstanding,” he beamed. “It’s a difficult place to come because they’ve started well and Mauricio [Pochettino] is an excellent coach who will do very well here, so to get to two wins out of three is great and I’m reasonably happy.”

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