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Italy to test young players in England friendly

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BERNE, Switzerland (AP) -Italy coach Cesare Prandelli sees Wednesday's friendly against England as an ideal testing ground for young players ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.

Prandelli has opted for youth for the match in Switzerland with the inclusion of teenagers Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia Perin, as well as Manolo Gabbiadini, 20, and Andrea Poli, 22.

Mario Balotelli withdrew from the squad on Monday with conjunctivitis and was replaced by Udinese's Diego Fabbrini, increasing the number of uncapped players in the Italy squad to nine.

"The idea is to plan the next two years and immediately see if these lads are up to proving themselves ready," Prandelli said. "For that reason the match against England is very important.

"What I'm expecting is to continue the way we have been playing to get the results, but improving our finishing. That's why I'm going to give most attention to the attack."

Italy's attack will be composed of players born after 1990 following the withdrawal of Balotelli and the decision to leave out Antonio Cassano.

"I want to look at players who have different characteristics so I have options in the future," Prandelli said. "But it doesn't rule out Antonio or others.

"I hoped Mario would recover in time, but it wasn't to be. I want to give him an important role, on his side he has to assume this type of responsibility."

Italy beat England on penalties in the quarterfinals at the European Championship en route to the final, which it lost 4-0 to Spain.

Ignazio Abate, Federico Balzaretti and Daniele De Rossi are the only three players who started the quarterfinal to be included in Prandelli's squad, although Alessandro Diamanti and Antonio Nocerino came on as substitutes.

England coach Roy Hodgson has also named an inexperienced squad, with only Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Ashley Young included from the starting lineup of that quarterfinal as well as substitutes Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott.

Lescott was a late addition following the withdrawals of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge and goalkeeper Joe Hart with injuries.

Hart's absence means Birmingham City's Jack Butland is in line to become England's youngest ever goalkeeper following impressive performances with Britain during the Olympic Games.

Butland's only senior experience at club level is the 24 games he played on loan for Cheltenham in the fourth tier of English football last season.

"It's what dreams are made of," Butland said. "Unfortunately it's come, or hopefully will come, due to an injury which is unfortunate for Joe but if I get the chance it will be a dream come true. It's something I can't stop thinking about and I'd love the chance to be able to perform on that stage on Wednesday night.

"I think it's very important, I'm not going to try and put too much pressure on myself or expect anything because there's not a lot of goalkeepers who get the chance at such a young age so I'm very privileged to be in this position. I'm going to take everything in my stride. If it doesn't happen on Wednesday I'm going to work harder to make it happen on a different occasion."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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