Big Azzurri snub

Serbia and Montenegro goalkeeper Oliver Kovacevic makes a save during practice yesterday. The team...

Serbia and Montenegro goalkeeper Oliver Kovacevic makes a save during practice yesterday. The team will face Italy in a friendly tonight at the Rogers Centre. (Toronto Sun/Stan Behal)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Organizers of tonight's friendly between Italy and Serbia and Montenegro are learning first-hand that Toronto is a sophisticated soccer market.

Neither squad will dress its A team for the game, which begins at 8 p.m. at Rogers Centre, and the fans have responded in kind.

Last week, the American-based organizers suggested that a full house was a possibility at the 53,000-seat Rogers Centre. But as of yesterday, only about 25,000 seats had been sold.

"They're now hoping for 30,000," the source said.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi has travelled to North America, fresh off a 0-0 draw against Norway in World Cup qualifying play on Saturday, with only one player who played in that match, fullback Fabio Grosso of Palermo.

TEAM OF YOUNG PLAYERS

Juventus midfielder Manuele Blasi is the only player from one of Italy's famed Big Three clubs -- Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

"Call the team what you will, a team of young players," Lippi said last night, following a workout on the newly installed grass field at Rogers Centre. "But I know that these are Italian players that have had great campaigns and they have earned the right to be part of the national team, to wear the Italian jersey."

One such player is Livorno forward Cristiano Lucarelli, who was the top scorer in Serie A this season with 24 goals. Lucarelli is thrilled to be representing his country.

"It has been a huge goal of mine and adds some shine to a career that hasn't been at the top level, but has given me a lot of satisfaction," Lucarelli told Reuters.

Lippi defended his decision to bring essentially a national B team for tonight's friendly. The Italians also meet Ecuador at New York's Giant Stadium on Saturday, pointing out that it has been a "stressful" season for his top players.

"I am sorry for our (North) American fans, who were maybe expecting certain players," Lippi told Reuters. "But I couldn't have done it any other way.

"These lads (on the tour) have a chance to make an impression and if they do well with their clubs, they could become part of the (World Cup) group," he added.

Another reason for the disappointing ticket sales thus far is the price of tickets, which range from $50 to $135.

Still, with half a million people in the GTA that are Italian-born or of Italian descent, a major walkup today is possible, especially considering that both teams are leading their respective World Cup qualifying groups.


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