MILAN (AFP) – Borussia Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile insists absent compatriot Mario Balotelli won’t be missed when new-look Italy host Azerbaijan for the first of two Euro 2016 qualifiers on Friday.
Immobile’s positive start to life in the Bundesliga since joining the German side from Torino has coincided with a recall to the national squad in the wake of a disastrous World Cup campaign.
His impressive club form is in stark contrast to that of Balotelli, who is struggling to make an impact at Liverpool since quitting AC Milan and has fallen out of favour with new Italy coach Antonio Conte.
Immobile is expected to start up front alongside Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza when Italy host Azerbaijan at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo.
Italy team manager Gabriele Oriali says the national team selectors will maintain a “revolving door policy”, but Immobile said the current crop of players rightly deserve their selection.
“There are other strikers here who are playing very well. If they’re here, it’s because they deserve to be,” Immobile told reporters at Italy’s Coverciano training camp on Wednesday.
“I know Mario very well. He’s a good lad, but it’s the coach who picks the squad.”
Conte said earlier this week: “Mario has started afresh, so it’s not easy. I think we need to give him time to settle at Liverpool.
“I make call-ups, not exclusions. Those are two very different things.”
Immobile was part of the Italy squad that failed to get past the first round in Brazil where Cesare Prandelli’s side lost to Costa Rica and Uruguay having opened their campaign by beating England.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci complained last week Italy’s World Cup preparations suffered because their “team base was a little too holiday-like”.
But any thoughts of an easy ride under Conte are likely to have dissipated immediately after his appointment.
Conte previously led Juventus to three consecutive Serie A titles and is known for his no-nonsense disciplinarian approach.