Milan (AFP) – Juventus pair Claudio Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini were left at home as Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura called five new players into an enlarged 27-man squad for upcoming games against Albania and the Netherlands.
Italy host Albania in Palermo in a 2018 World Cup qualifier on Friday before facing the Dutch in Amsterdam on March 28 as Ventura looks further ahead to a possible Group G qualifying decider away to leaders Spain on September 2.
Spain, who held Italy to a draw in Turin last year, currently lead the group on 10 points, the same as second-placed Italy, with Israel just one point further adrift in third.
Marchisio, who sat on the bench nursing a knock on Sunday as Juve snatched a 1-0 win at Sampdoria, will play no part after being left off Ventura’s 27-man list, enlarged from an initial 25 amid worries over Fiorentina midfielder Federico Bernardeschi, who suffered a scare on Sunday morning and sat out a 1-0 win at Crotone.
With Juve defender Chiellini also nursing injury, Ventura has called up Inter Milan defender Danilo D’Ambrosio, Atalanta defender Leonardo Spinazzola, Bologna winger Simone Verdi and Serie B goalkeeper Alex Meret, who plays for SPAL, on loan from Udinese, in Italy’s second division.
The Italy coach was later forced to call up Atalanta striker Andrea Petagna after Southampton’s Manolo Gabbiadini suffered injury in a defeat at Tottenham.
Bernardeschi could recover, though. He is on the list and is “expected to join our training camp in Coverciano,” a statement by the Italian football federation (FIGC) said.
Juventus ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon is set to earn his 168th Azzurri cap in Palermo, where Ventura’s back three could feature Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, with Alessandro Romagnoli or Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian possible substitutes for Chiellini.
Roma’s Daniele De Rossi and Marco Verratti, of Paris Saint Germain, should help marshall a five-man midfield, with Inter’s Antonio Candreva and Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) giving options on the flanks.
Up front, Ventura — formerly of Torino — could give the nod to Torino striker Andrea Belotti, whose sterling season so far has steered him to the top of Serie A’s scoring charts on 22 goals.
Belotti, who has scored three goals in five Italy appearances, could spearhead a two-man attack with Lazio striker Ciro Immobile.
Although Petagna, who has added muscle to an impressive Atalanta’s front line this season, could equally be given his chance to earn a first cap.
Italy’s 27-man squad for a World Cup 2018 qualifier against Albania in Palermo on March 24 and away to the Netherlands in Amsterdam on March 28:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Alex Meret (SPAL)
Defenders: Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta), Davide Zappacosta (Torino)
Midfielders: Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Roberto Gagliardini (Inter), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain); Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Inter Milan), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Nicola Sansone (Villarreal/ESP), Simone Verdi (Bologna)
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Eder (Inter), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Andrea Petagna (Atalanta)