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Prandelli to test Rossi, Verratti

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon insists the Azzurri aren't one of the favourites heading into next month's FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

FLORENCE, Italy -- Forward Giuseppe Rossi and midfielder Marco Verratti have been named as starters for Italy's friendly against Ireland on Saturday, giving both players the chance to show that they belong in the Azzurri's World Cup squad.

-Rzouki: Assessing the attack

Coach Cesare Prandelli noted that Rossi needs to demonstrate that his bothersome right knee can handle physical tackles.

"I'm sure Giuseppe Rossi will have a great match," Prandelli said Friday. "It will be like a World Cup opener for him."

The United States-born Rossi led Serie A with 14 goals in 17 matches with Fiorentina until he re-injured his right knee in January, sidelining him for four months. He returned earlier this month and played in Fiorentina's final matches of the season, although he did not play a full 90 minutes.

Rossi initially tore his right anterior cruciate ligament during a match with Villarreal against Real Madrid in October 2011 and needed three operations before returning with Fiorentina in May 2013.

Verratti has been a regular with French champion Paris Saint-Germain the past two seasons but at 21, he still hasn't proved himself with the national team.

"I've always said that he doesn't need to limit himself or specialize in one position," Prandelli said, alluding to the midfielder's versatility. "I want to analyze more characteristics of every player."

Prandelli announced his lineup for the friendly and it contains a mix of likely reserves and players still battling for inclusion in the final 23-man squad, which Prandelli has to decide on by Monday.

Salvatore Sirigu will start in goal.

Matteo Darmian, Gabriel Paletta, Leonardo Bonucci and Matteo De Sciglio will form the defense.

Thiago Motta, Riccardo Montolivo, Verratti and Claudio Marchisio will play in midfield and Rossi will partner Ciro Immobile in attack.

Prandelli said he will select only five of the seven forwards in his preliminary 30-man squad.

With Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Alessio Cerci and Immobile likely assured of spots, Rossi appears to be battling with Mattia Destro and Lorenzo Insigne to avoid the cut.

Rossi was already among the final cuts from then-coach Marcello Lippi's 2010 squad.

"There is healthy competition and the players know that tomorrow is an important test," Prandelli said. "Ireland is a physical squad. That's good for us."

After the Ireland match at Fulham's Craven Cottage in London, Italy will face Luxembourg in Perugia on Wednesday for its final warmup before flying to Brazil a day later.

Drawn into Group D at the World Cup, Italy opens against England on June 14 then faces Costa Rica on June 20 and Uruguay on June 24.


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