Azzurri to rest stars

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

Italy may have tradition and history on its side, but Serbia-Montenegro has to be considered the favourite when the two national soccer squads meet up for a friendly at the Rogers Centre next Wednesday.

The Azzurri, winners of three World Cup finals, lead their World Cup qualifying group with a 4-0-1 record, with a game scheduled in Oslo on Saturday against Norway (2-2-1). But several star players such as Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri will skip the Toronto game.

Serbia-Montenegro also has an impressive record in World Cup qualifying at 3-0-2. What's more, Serbia-Montenegro has not given up a single goal, and has scored 10. It is home to Belgium (2-1-2) on Saturday in Belgrade. The World Cup final will be held next year in Germany.

"We are very happy to come to North America to play in front of a lot of Italian fans and have the possibility to see players we want to (test) against a very good team," Italian coach Marcello Lippi said yesterday during a conference call.

The Azzurri take on Ecuador on June 11 in East Rutherford, N.J., in the second game of the tour.

While Italy appears to be in good shape heading toward next year's World Cup final, Lippi is taking nothing for granted and likely will dress some players in Toronto who won't have played against Norway.

Lippi said he would bring midfielder Simone Barone, striker Luca Toni and defenders Andrea Barzagli, Fabio Grosso and Christian Zaccardo from Palermo.

Others expected on the trip include strikers Christian Lucarelli, Mauro Esposito and Vicenzo Iaquinta and goalkeepers Angelo Perruzi and Flavio Roma.

Despite the absence of some top performers, Lippi said a good showing in Toronto is important from a preparation and morale point of view, and he will use the best lineup possible.

Former Italian great Giorgio Chinaglia said the Italian side needs work, particularly in midfield.

"The problem we have with our national team is we don't have enough workers," Chinaglia said. "We have enough players with technical ability, but we don't have enough players who work hard (especially) at midfield."

Both Italy and Serbia and Montenegro lead their respective World Cup qualifying groups. Italy is ranked 10th in the latest FIFA rankings, while Serbia and Montenegro is 46th.


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