This week was full of surprises in Serie A as Napoli, Inter, and Fiorentina all won, while Juventus and Roma stumbled.
The biggest surprise of the weekend though, may have been Mario Balotelli's tears on the bench in Napoli. However, there were a few consistencies like Luca Toni and Ciro Immobile getting on the score sheet and Di Natale leading his team to victory. Prandelli will not have an easy job determining which strikers will be on his squad headed to Brazil.
Ciro Immobile continued to prove his worth as he scored yet again. Although, Immobile's Torino would ultimately lose to Bologna 2-1, his goal was his 12th of the season. He now has as many as Gonzalo Higuain, and has the most goals in the entire league from open play.
While nobody gave Immobile a chance at making Prandelli's World Cup squad heading into the season, his performances on the pitch week in and week out have been too good to ignore. It will be interesting to see if Prandelli decides to go with another youngster like Roma's Alessandro Florenzi or Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne ahead of Immobile.
Luca Toni may be turning 37 this year, but he seems to have turned back the clock this season. He scored his 11th goal of the season as he helped lead Hellas Verona to a comeback against Juventus. Verona were down 2-0 going into halftime, but Toni was able to spark his side's second half rejuvenation as they ended up tying against the league leaders. Luca Toni was not the only 36 year old proving they still have it though as Antonio Di Natale also found the back of the net.
Antonio Di Natale has always been a favourite of Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli but with Di Natale already confirming this will be his last season, it doesn't look like the Udinese man will find himself in Brazil. Nonetheless he is doing everything in his power to show he deserves a spot as he was able to score the winner on the weekend against Chievo. Di Natale has 7 goals on the season and it is a long shot that he will be on Italy's World Cup squad, but considering all he has accomplished, his inclusion may not be a bad idea for Prandelli.
No forward is a bigger lock to make the Italian National Team than that of controversial striker Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli may be a fierce competitor who strikes fear into many defenders, however, on Saturday in Napoli he was literally left on the bench to cry. Balotelli was subbed off in the 70th minutes at the San Paolo and was reduced to tears. Although tons of false reporting and speculation blamed racist chanting on his tears, it has been confirmed that indeed it had nothing to do with racism and that the Napoli fans actually gave Balotelli a very warm reception.
The striker is going through a tough time and just found out he is a father. Italy will need Balotelli to regain his form if they will hope to make a serious impact in the World Cup.
The battle to make the World Cup squad for Italy will continue to heat up as the country has never had so much depth in the forward department. Prandelli has a plethora of options, both young and old, and will have to choose wisely who he decides to bring and who he decides to leave home.
One of the classiest and all time greats in Italian soccer shocked the peninsula on Monday when he announced that this would be his last season. Antonio Di Natale has spent most of his career with Udinese and despite interest from some major European clubs, he chose to stay loyal and become an icon at the club. Di Natale won the Capocannoniere (Golden Boot) twice in his career, and was named Italian Football Player of the Year in 2010. He is a classy individual and his talents will be missed in Serie A next season.
Udinese is model club that others across Italy look to emulate. Under head coach Francesco Guidolin, the club has been able to stay competitive every season, despite selling some of their best players. Udinese qualified for the Champions League in two of the past three seasons, but failed to reach the group stage on both occasions.
In recent years the club has sold the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla, Gokhan Inler, Samir Handanovic, Kwadwo Asamoah, Pablo Armero, and Mehdi Benatia. Even after all of these transfers, Di Natale stayed true to the Friuli side and helped them compete. The team were able to finish in the top half of the standings the majority of his time there, however, he was never able to lead them to a Scudetto, and that may be one of the biggest regrets Di Natale will have in his career.
Along with Udinese, Di Natale made quite an impact with the Italian National Team as he played for them in three major tournaments, including Euro 2012 where the Azzurri went all the way to the Final. He was also a member of the Euro 2008 squad, and went to the World Cup in South Africa 2010.
Di Natale is the hardest player of all for Udinese to replace and eventually he may return to the club in a new role. His future was made a little more clear today by the Gazzetta Dello Sport that reported he will become an executive next season. They suggest that he has been offered a Vice President position with Empoli, the club that helped develop him. He grew up through their youth system. made his Serie A debut for Empoli, and now looks set to help run the team.
Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale said he will retire at the end of the season, bringing an end to a career which has seen him top Serie A's scoring charts on two occasions. In their first league outing of 2014, Udinese suffered a 3-1 defeat at home to Verona and Di Natale said post-match he intends to call it quits at the end of the campaign.
"I've spoken to my family, and now I will speak to the club about it," said the 36-year-old Naples-born player. The news could not have come at a worse time for Udinese, who after a fifth place finish last season and a bright start to this campaign have dropped to 13th.
Informed of the news, Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin told reporters: "I don't know what to say. I didn't know."
Despite playing at a club that has enjoyed little domestic success, Di Natale has been considered one of Italy's most lethal strikers in recent years. He finished top scorer in the 2009-2010 Serie A season, prompting an offer to join Juventus which he refused because his children were in school and well settled in the northern town of Udine.
It also earned Di Natale a place at Italy's disastrous 2010 World Cup, where he scored in a 3-2 defeat to Slovakia which left Italy bottom of their group and sealed their first round exit.
Di Natale also finished top scorer in 2010-2011, two goals ahead of Napoli's Edinson Cavani and seven ahead of Inter striker Samuel Eto'o
A season later, he finished joint third - and the first Italian - in the Serie A scoring charts to earn a place at Euro 2012, where he was the only player to score against eventual winners Spain, during a 1-1 draw. Italy went on to the final but were defeated 4-0 by Spain
Last season Di Natale scored 23 goals to finish the season as the top-ranked Italian striker but six behind Uruguayan sensation Cavani.
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The race for the Capocannoniere in Serie A has not been this exciting and wide open in years. Italy's golden boot will be fought for this year by some of the world's best and most prolific strikers. The league had been on a decline for years before starting to climb its way back to the pinnacle of domestic leagues. Despite losing capocannoniere winners in two consecutive seasons (Ibrahimovic last year, Cavani this year) to Paris St-Germain, the league has picked up some real star power and it's going to be one of the most exciting to watch.
Last year, Edinson Cavani ran away from the competition to win his first ever Capocannoniere. His competition wasn't what it used to be with the likes of Ibrahivmovic leaving Italy and Di Natale getting up there in age. However, this season's race will be much more exciting with the acquisitions of Mario Gomez, Carlos Tévez, Gonzalo Higuaín, Mario Balotelli, and Giuseppe Rossi. The league is not short of firepower and expect there to be a lot more goals scored in Italy this year.
With only three Champions League spots available in Italy, competition between clubs is at an all-time high. There are about seven or eight teams this year that can compete for a spot in Europe's most prestigious club competition and it will be a race to the finish. The likes of Juventus, Napoli, Milan, Roma, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Inter have all improved their squads and as a result have brought in top talent to Serie A. It will be interesting to see which players can adapt to the tactically sound Serie A style successfully and which ones struggle along the way.
It is almost impossible to predict which player will walk away with this year's Capocannoniere, but there should be a few 20 goal scorers this year. Higuaín, Tévez and Gomez are all early favorites, but you'd be insane to rule out Mario Balotelli or past winner Antonio Di Natale. I for one cannot wait to get the new campaign started!