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EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS

FOOTBALL

Mario Balotelli ‘won’t be missed’

Borussia Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile insists absent compatriot Mario Balotelli won't be missed when new-look Italy host Azerbaijan for the first of two Euro 2016 qualifiers on Friday.

Mario Balotelli 'won't be missed'
Mario Balotelli (R) during Italy's World Cup opening game against England. Photo: AFP

Immobile's positive start to life in the Bundesliga since joining the German side from Torino has coincided with a recall to the national squad in the wake of a disastrous World Cup campaign.

His impressive club form is in stark contrast to that of Balotelli, who is struggling to make an impact at Liverpool since quitting AC Milan and has fallen out of favour with new Italy coach Antonio Conte.

Immobile is expected to start up front alongside Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza when Italy host Azerbaijan at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo.

Italy team manager Gabriele Oriali says the national team selectors will maintain a "revolving door policy", but Immobile said the current crop of players rightly deserve their selection.

"There are other strikers here who are playing very well. If they're here, it's because they deserve to be," Immobile told reporters at Italy's Coverciano training camp on Wednesday.

"I know Mario very well. He's a good lad, but it's the coach who picks the squad."

Conte said earlier this week: "Mario has started afresh, so it's not easy. I think we need to give him time to settle at Liverpool.

"I make call-ups, not exclusions. Those are two very different things."

Immobile was part of the Italy squad that failed to get past the first round in Brazil where Cesare Prandelli's side lost to Costa Rica and Uruguay having opened their campaign by beating England.

Defender Leonardo Bonucci complained last week Italy's World Cup preparations suffered because their "team base was a little too holiday-like".

But any thoughts of an easy ride under Conte are likely to have dissipated immediately after his appointment.

Conte previously led Juventus to three consecutive Serie A titles and is known for his no-nonsense disciplinarian approach.

Indeed this steely attitude was in evidence as he said that any bitterness or tension still hanging over the Juventus and Roma players after the Turin side won their bad-tempered Serie A game last weekend 3-2 was to be left for afterwards.

Bonucci had helped to stoke the fires with an inflammatory tweet earlier this week.

"Once you cross the door at Coverciano, all other tensions remain outside," warned Conte.

"Bonucci was wrong, and he knows he is wrong. Here, we all play for the same team. If it happens again, there will be consequences."

One of the benefits to come out of the Juventus and Roma match was the return from injury of veteran playmaker Andrea Pirlo, who seems set to line up on Friday in his usual central midfield role.

Following an opening 2-0 win over Group H rivals Oslo in Norway, where Balotelli was also absent, Italy are looking to make it three wins from three and will be encouraged that they can achieve that as Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts has lost several key players for the game.

The German will be without defender Mahir Shukurov and forward Vagif Javadov, who both started in the 2-1 defeat to Bulgaria last month.

Striker Cihan Ozkara and injured skipper Rashad Sadygov are also missing, meaning a number of younger players have been brought in.

After the Azerbijan clash Italy fly to Malta for their second match in four days and the clash at the Ta'Qali Stadium is perhaps more of a concern for Conte.

Malta coach Pietro Ghedin, once part of Italy's managerial staff under Cesare Maldini, Dino Zoff and Giovanni Trapattoni, said he is brimming with confidence.

"The important thing is that my boys are improving all the time and are getting there. I am very confident," Ghedin told UEFA.com.

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FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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