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The Azzurri watch continues to heat up with several fringe players really making a case for their spot in the squad headed to Brazil. The real competition seems to be for the spots up front as there is a plethora of options for head coach Cesare Prandelli to choose from. He has experienced veterans who have won the tournament like Alberto Gilardino, Francesco Totti, and Luca Toni he could choose, as well as promising youngsters like Ciro Immobile, Alessandro Florenzi, and Lorenzo Insigne he could go with. There has been lots of noise made this week by several strikers who could be in Brazil next year, including a return back to Serie A from one Italian international.

Pablo Daniel Osvaldo returns to Serie A only months after leaving it. The Argentine-born Italian international striker decided to join a very deep Juventus squad. The Bianconeri already have Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente, Sebastian Giovinco, Fabio Quagliarella, and Mirko Vucinic, but decided to bring in Osvaldo on a free loan anyways. Antonio Conte has always admired Osvaldo and this could be the striker's opportunity to impress Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli ahead of the World Cup. Playing time will not be easy to come by, however, a strong performance for Juventus down the stretch, could guarantee the striker a spot in Brazil.

Ciro Immobile continued his run of fine form as he scored a brilliant goal during the past weekend against Milan. The youngster was seen as a long shot heading into the current campaign, and in many circles he is still considered one, but he has done everything in his power to prove his worth this season. Along with the Alessio Cerci, Immobile has given Torino a strong attack all season long and a current 7th place spot in the Serie A table. He could be set for a big transfer this offseason.

Giampaolo Pazzini got a start for Clarence Seedorf's Milan side at the weekend, as he has impressed since returning from injury. He missed the entire first half of the season and has been hoping to prove to Prandelli that he is good enough to be in the World Cup this summer. He did well to create several chances against Torino and nearly scored a spectacular goal.

Roma's match against Parma at the weekend was abandoned in the 9th minute due to heavy rain and a waterlogged pitch. The game will be postponed until a later date but the team should be in action on Wednesday in Coppa Italia action against Napoli. Both Francesco Totti and Alessandro Florenzi were in the starting XI for Roma and both have been linked with Brazil 2014 places. While Totti's case seems to be more of a dream for Azzurri fans, Florenzi is legitimately competing with several other young strikers for a spot in Prandelli's squad.

The ageless Luca Toni was also back at it this weekend as he scored the winning goal against Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon. It was the striker's 10th goal of the season as he continues to impress in the current campaign. He sits only 4 goals behind the league leader Giuseppe Rossi, and the 2006 World Cup winner could be a great veteran option for Prandelli to have coming off the bench. It is unlikely the big man will be in Brazil this summer, but he sure is making a convincing case as to why he should be going.

Prandelli has a plethora of options at his disposal when it comes to Brazil 2014. The aforementioned players are just those on the fringe of a spot in the World Cup that does not include guarantees like Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi (if healthy), as well as several other veteran strikers like Antonio Cassano, Alberto Gilardino, and Antonio Di Natale.  Prandelli will have his hands full in selecting this lineup.  

Milan has had an up and down season to say the least. They began the season terribly dropping all kinds of points and found themselves sitting in the fifteenth spot.  However, unlike most clubs around Italy, Milan decided not to fire their coach Massimo Allegri and worked out a variety of issues inside the squad.  They seem to have made the right decision as a 3-0 victory over Lazio on Saturday ensured Milan are back in the Champions League for next year. 

For many Milan fans, the season was over before it began with the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.  Combine those losses with the departures of Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, and Alessandro Nesta, and many Milan fans were wondering who was still on their team.  Fortunately for them, a kid by the name of Stephen El Shaarawy was still a member of the Rossoneri and was ready to step up the plate. El Shaarawy has taken Italy by storm as he has had a fantastic season and has helped Milan slowly start to climb up the table. 

Despite El Shaarawy having a breakthrough season, Milan needed additional support if they were going to combat Barcelona in the Champions League and continue to make moves in Serie A.  The team decided to say good-bye to striker Alexandre Pato who had been plagued by injury and needed a change of scenery.  The club shocked the world when they announced that his replacement would be non-other than Mario Balotelli.  The big Italian international was an immediate hit at the club with the fans as he was a hometown kid who had been a lifelong supporter.  He made an impact right away scoring a brace in his debut against Udinese. Milan had again made the right decision. 

Despite Balotelli being out of the lineup for Milan's big clash with Lazio, the Rossoneri were able to get the job done quite easily 3-0.  They have now claimed sole possession of third place which also happens to be Italy's final Champions League spot.  Don't expect to see Milan slowing down either as they have looked more and more impressive every week. It will be a battle right to the finish for Italy's final Champions League spot, however, Milan have emerged as the clear favorites. 

Milan, March 2, 2013 (AFP) - Giampaolo Pazzini scored a brace and Kevin Prince Boateng his second goal inside a week as AC Milan outclassed Lazio 3-0 on Saturday to go third in Italy's Serie A.

Lazio ended a run of five games without a win last Monday with a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Pescara.

However, Vladimir Petkovic's side were reduced to 10 men on the quarter hour when Antonio Candreva was sent off for a foul on the edge of the area.

From then on, Lazio, already missing a number of key players including Miroslav Klose and Frenchman Abdoulay Konko, were playing catch-up.

Milan dominated from the outset and Pazzini opened the scoring five minutes before the interval. Massimiliano Allegri's side, who beat Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in February, were given another boost when Boateng doubled the score on 44 minutes.

Pazzini put the game beyond reach with his second on the hour mark. Milan's 14th win of the campaign allowed them to leapfrog Lazio into third -- the last Champions League qualifying place in Serie A. They are now on 48 points, still 11 behind leaders Juventus, but now only five adrift of Napoli who drew 1-1 with Juve on Friday.

The remaining Serie A fixtures will be played on Sunday.


© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse
Year after year, it seems the team everyone is trying to avoid when it comes to the Champions League draw is Barcelona. Last year, Milan was given the daunting task of having to play Barcelona a total of four times! Yes, four times! Milan were unfortunately drawn into Group H with the Catalan giants, as well as in the quarter finals. This year, Milan were able to avoid being drawn into the same group with Barcelona but will meet them in round of sixteen action.

Despite Milan playing Barcelona four times last season, many of the current players do not have much experience against the La Liga leaders. This is largely due to the heavy turnaround that Milan has seen over the past year with players like Ibrahimovic, Pato, Inzaghi, Silva, Gattuso, Seedorf, Nesta, and many others leaving the club. The order of defeating Barcelona will now fall on the shoulders of players like El Shaarawy, Montolivo, Pazzini and De Sciglio. The biggest acquisition in recent times for Milan has been controversial striker Mario Balotelli, but he is cup tied and will not be eligible for Champions League play as he has already played for Manchester City. Balotelli could have helped Milan tremendously had he been eligible to play but without the big Italian international, I'm not sure Milan can get the job done.

Milan has enjoyed a period of fine form in Italy's top flight as they have been able to string together a number of positive results and climb their way back into relevancy in the table. Currently sitting in fifth spot, Milan are once again a force in Serie A thanks to the great play from their young stars. However, Milan still has ways to go to get back to where they were a couple of years ago. This is not the same time that won the 2011 Scudetto nor is it a team capable of fighting for Italy's last Champions League spot and beating Barcelona at the same time. I do not doubt the fact that Milan can make things interesting against Barcelona, but I do believe they will be outmatched over two legs. However, this may not be a bad thing for Milan fans as an elimination from the Champions League could be what the team needs in order to be competing in the tournament next year.