World Cup woe for Inter’s Italian and Argentinean players

by William Abbs

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Inter Milan continue to dominate Italian football and have finally taken that form into European competition. However, while fans in this country are constantly fretting about the difficulty that English players face in securing a place in Premier League clubs’ first elevens, it is worth pointing out that Inter’s starting line-up for Saturday night’s Champions League final against Bayern Munich will, almost certainly, be bereft of Italian players.

Despite winning their fifth consecutive Italian league title last Sunday, not one Inter player features in national coach Marcello Lippi’s provisional World Cup squad. In truth, José Mourinho’s side this season did not feature any realistic candidates for inclusion by Lippi. Young full back Davide Santon has had his progress stifled by injury this season, while Mario Balotelli’s firebrand personality continues to blight his club career.

The absence of players from Italy’s top side in the Azzurri squad is not the only World Cup-related quirk about Inter Milan. Four members of Inter’s typical starting line-up are from Argentina, but only two have made coach Diego Maradona’s squad. Diego Milito and Walter Samuel have made Maradona’s final 23-man squad but Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso have not. At first glance, the exclusion of both Zanetti and Cambiasso appears baffling.

While Maradona’s selection policy throughout his tenure as Argentina coach has often defied rational explanation, though, he has at least been consistent in the case of Zanetti and Cambiasso. The former was replaced as captain when Maradona took the reins, with Javier Macherano assuming the role, and so Zanetti’s standing in the squad was undermined as a result. Cambiasso, meanwhile, was regarded as an underperforming figure for Argentina prior to Maradona’s appointment. The new coach dropped Cambiasso from the national squad on taking over and so the midfielder’s omission from the World Cup twenty-three is really no surprise. Zanetti is also alleged to have criticised one of Maradona’s pre-match team talks in front of the rest of the players, which probably sealed his fate.

It is reasonable to suggest that Maradona does favour players whose personalities he likes, such as the warhorse Martin Palermo and the ever-running Jonas Gutiérrez. He even has a supposedly cool relationship with Lionel Messi. Should Inter overcome Bayern on Saturday night, though, it will seem perverse if two central figures for the European club champions are to be both watching the World Cup on television.

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