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Rossi and Balotelli to lead the line in London

Balotelli

Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Balotelli are set to start up front for Italy in their friendly against Nigeria at Craven Cottage this evening.

Serie A top scorer Giuseppe Rossi has overcome tonsillitis and is expected to start for Italy against Nigeria alongside former Manchester City man Mario Balotelli.

The Azzurri managed a battling 1-1 draw with Germany in their last outing but will be strengthened in London by the return of Rossi.

Rossi has been in sensational form this season and leads the Serie A scoring chart with 11 goals to his name.

His strike partner Balotelli has had a much less enjoyable season for struggling AC Milan and has earned more headlines for off-the-field activities than his performances.

"Rossi is a versatile striker who can play as first or second striker," Italy boss Cesare Prandelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport, explaining his probable line-up for Nigeria.

"It's clear that if you use him as your point of reference up front then you have to co-ordinate the midfield around him, a little like Pep Guardiola has done over the last few years."

Balotelli returns to England where he had a turbulent time and Prandelli stressed what he is looking for from the Milan marksman.

"He needs to be more reactive," the ex-Fiorentina boss explained. "I'll ask him to move more off the ball."

Prandelli concluded with an assessment of Italy's opponents who have just booked their place at next summer's World Cup with victory over Ethiopia.

"Ten of their 11 players play in Europe," he said. "African players are physically strong and have improved tactically.

"I expect this game to be the same difficulty at the Italy-Nigeria game of the 1994 World Cup when the Azzurri had to dig deep to win."

Roberto Baggio was the hero of Italy's 2-1 extra-time win over Nigeria in the USA in 1994. Italy were headed out of the competition until his late equaliser and then he converted a penalty in the 102nd minute to seal progress to the quarter-finals. 

image: © praguegallagher

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