Italy boss Prandelli in Rossi dilemma
Injury-plagued striker Giuseppe Rossi remains the biggest dilemma for Cesare Prandelli as the deadline looms for the Italy coach to trim his World Cup squad to 23 players.
The Italian admitted to his uncertainty over the Fiorentina player as his team prepare for Saturday's friendly against Ireland at Craven Cottage in London.
Prandelli concedes he has been moved by Rossi's effort to prove that he is ready for the tournament, yet still appears to be cautious about gambling on the player who, when fit, is arguably Italy's most prolific and consistent scorer.
Italy's provisional 30-man squad have been training outside Florence for the last week and, with little real news, Italian media have speculated endlessly on who will be among the unlucky seven men cut.
Many other coaches have saved themselves the headache, and tension, by announcing their definitive 23-man squad well ahead of the 2 June deadline.
However, after Italy repeatedly ran out of gas during matches at Euro 2012, Prandelli is closely monitoring the players' fitness to make sure that those he takes to Brazil are capable of outlasting the opposition.
The latest consensus is that, of the seven forwards in the provisional squad, Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci are certain to make the cut, while Antonio Cassano has a good chance and Lorenzo Insigne is likely to be dropped.
That would leave Rossi vying with AS Roma's Mattia Destro, who has also battled back from injury, for the fifth and final spot.
Rossi would certainly get the sympathy vote. The United States born forward's troubles began when he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury while playing for Villarreal in a Spanish league match against Real Madrid in 2011.
He fought desperately to be fit for Euro 2012, only to re-injure the knee in training and miss the tournament.
He made a comeback with Fiorentina this season, scoring 14 goals by early January to make him Serie A's leading scorer.
However, he then suffered a less serious injury, a second degree sprain to the medial collateral ligament, in the same knee which sidelined him until the start of this month.
"He is a talent with great quality, one of the best in Italy," said Prandelli. "He is determined, hungry and made a thousand sacrifices to be here in the running for the World Cup.
"He is the proof that champions need to have character and he can set the example for everyone. Clearly, he has to be in good shape and that's what we want to see.
"His determination, his desire to make all the sacrifices to be here is a demonstration that even the great players have to put in effort. This is a good lesson for the whole group."
Team doctor Enrico Castellacci said on Tuesday that the game against Ireland could be crucial for Rossi.
"Clinically, he is fine, but he will be evaluated during the game, and then, of course, it is up to Prandelli to decide whether or not to call him up."
Elsewhere, eight of the current 10 midfielders are likely to make the trip.
Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Thiago Motta, Riccardo Montolivo, Daniele de Rossi and Antonio Candreva are regarded as certainties, leaving Romulo, Marco Verratti, Marco Parolo and Alberto Aquilani to battle for two more places.
Of the five central defenders in the provisional squad, Juventus trio Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli should be safe, and Gabriel Paletta is also expected to make the cut at the expense of Inter Milan's Andrea Ranocchia.
That leaves three places for full backs. Milan's Mattia De Sciglio, who can play on either side, is given a good chance of getting in. Ignazio Abate, Christian Maggio and Matteo Darmian are in a fairly even battle for two more places and Fiorentina's Manuel Pasqual is seen as a rank outsider.