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Saturday March 22, 2014 MYT 8:32:48 PM
Saturday March 22, 2014 MYT 8:33:46 PM
by terry daley
ROME (Reuters) - Antonio Cassano is ready to grab his chance of a World Cup place after two years in the international wilderness, and wants to bring another Serie A veteran with him - former AS Roma teammate Francesco Totti.
"Checco (Francesco) is phenomenal. Even at 37, 38 years old he's scary to play against. I would pick him every time," Cassano said in an interview with the Corriere Dello Sport.
In-form Parma forward Cassano played with Roma's ageing captain and talisman for five years between 2001 and 2006, before being sold to Real Madrid.
"I don't want problems with (Italy coach Cesare) Prandelli. I don't want to pick the team myself ... but pick Totti. Spain, England, whoever we play we will play, but they will all have something else to worry about (with Totti in the squad). And that means a lot."
Prandelli opened the door to Cassano this week for the first time since the 2012 European Championship because of the 31-year-old's form for high-flying Parma.
Cassano's 11 league goals and outstanding play has been key to his side's rise to sixth place in Serie A after a 16-match unbeaten run, and they will find themselves in a Europa League spot should they beat Genoa on Sunday (1130 GMT).
The teams directly above them, Inter Milan and Fiorentina, play later in the day.
"After the European Championship we wanted to look forward. Cassano was 30 years old and we thought that other players would develop," Prandelli said on Wednesday.
"If these players have not developed as we had hoped and a player is playing better at 32 than he did at 30, then why not (select him)?"
Prandelli was less enthusiastic about selecting Totti, who at 37 years old is still proving himself to be hugely important to second-placed Roma as they redevelop under coach Rudi Garcia.
"Let's leave him alone for now. The last time we spoke about him he ended up injuring himself," Prandelli said.
"It's a great pleasure to know that one of the best players of the post-war period is still offering the national team coach the chance to think about picking him.
"He said himself that he will decide (about playing for Italy) only after being sure of his physical condition.
"It's not only a technical question: from that point of view you can't attack Totti. But his age is what it is, and even if he's showing that he can keep up with the pace (of Serie A), Brazil will ask something more."
Cassano has been outspoken in the past, and his weight has also drawn criticism. But recently he has eliminated his public outbursts and lost 10 kilograms, prompting Prandelli to consider one of Italian football's most controversial characters on the basis of what he does on the pitch rather than off it.
"I heard what he said and I have to thank him. Now I know that the door is open," Cassano said.
"I'm a player that has had and thrown away a lot of opportunities, and I've always been that way. But now I want to think less about what has been and more about the present. The present is what I would like to have - the World Cup."
(Editing by Stephen Wood) nL3N0MJ06O
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