Milan: Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is to step down following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, according to reports in Italy on Wednesday.
The news comes less than a week before Italy, beaten finalists at Euro 2012, bid to seal their ticket for Brazil with a win at home against the Czech Republic.
Although Prandelli has yet to officially confirm the report in Italian sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport, several other major media outlets gave weight to the story and have begun naming a list of potential successors.
Prandelli took over from Marcello Lippi in the wake of Italy’s disastrous first-round exit at the 2010 World Cup, and despite continuing to tinker with his squad has since transformed the four-time World Cup winners.
Italy sit top of World Cup qualifying group B with 14 points from six games, and hold a four and five-point lead on Bulgaria and third-placed Czech Republic respectively.
In Prandelli’s 44 games in charge so far, Italy have won 20 times, drawn 14 and lost 10.
Leading the potential successors, according to the front page report in Gazzetta, is current Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who has coached a number of top sides in Serie A and led Milan to the league title in 1999.
Also on the list is current Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri and former Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini.
Meanwhile, key absences could force Cesare Prandelli to deploy a relatively experimental side against Bulgaria on Friday as the Azzurri look to edge closer to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Italy are top of qualifying group B with a four-point lead over Bulgaria and a five-point cushion on the Czech Republic, against whom the Azzurri could seal their ticket for Brazil in Turin next Tuesday.
First up, though, are Bulgaria in Palermo, and Prandelli, who according to reports on Wednesday will quit his post following next summer’s showpiece, has been forced to pore over his tactical options.
Strikers Mario Balotelli (Milan) and Dani Osvaldo (Southampton) and midfielder Riccardo Montolivo (Milan) are all suspended while midfielder Claudio Marchisio and defender Andrea Barzagli (both Juventus) are injured.
Prandelli believes Bulgaria, against whom Italy were lucky to eke out a draw at the start of their campaign in Sofia a year ago, should not be taken lightly.
“On Friday we’re expecting a difficult match against a tough opponent and since we want to win this match we’re counting on the quality of our midfield and our wingers,” he said.
Prandelli, who led Italy to the final of Euro 2012 two years after the Azzurri’s first-round exit from the 2010 World Cup, has tinkered with personnel and tactical formations throughout this campaign and that is set to continue.
This week the 56-year-old tested a 4-3-2-1 formation which, in theory, requires the left and right-backs to provide presence in wide areas but allows the three-man defensive midfield to be relatively fluid as they seek to move the ball forward to the two attacking midfielders.
Prandelli’s four-man defence could be composed of Ignazio Abate (Milan), Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (both Juventus) and Luca Antonelli (Genoa), the latter replacing the experienced Barzagli (Juventus).
Experienced campaigner Andrea Pirlo (Juventus) is set to orchestrate a three-man defensive midfield alongside Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma) and Brazilian-born Thiago Motta (Paris St Germain), who could make his first appearance since suffering a hamstring injury during Italy’s 4-0 Euro 2012 final defeat to Spain.
Antonio Candreva (Lazio) and Emanuele Giaccherini (Sunderland), meanwhile, could occupy the attacking midfield roles with one of them expected to play in a free role.
Prandelli also tested Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne in Giaccherini’s position in training this week, while Alberto Gilardino (Genoa) is expected to occupy the lone striker’s position.