MILAN, Italy — Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has named Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in a reinvigorated 27-man squad unveiled on Sunday for upcoming Word Cup qualifiers against Armenia and Denmark.
Beaten Euro 2012 finalists Italy were lucky to escape with a draw from their opening fixture in Bulgaria in early September before defeating Malta 2-0 in an unconvincing display in Modena four days later.
Italy may sit top of Group B, thanks to superior goal difference compared to Bulgaria, but Prandelli will be looking for better displays when they host Armenia on October 12 and travel to Denmark four days later.
As well as Balotelli, who was sidelined from the earlier World Cup qualifiers because of an eye problem, the Azzurri coach has called up several players who have been absent from the national team in recent years.
Zenit Saint Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito returns only months after pulling out of the Euro 2012 squad after his name cropped up in a match-fixing scandal, in which he was later cleared.
Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia and Bologna stiker Alberto Gilardino also make their returns.
Ranocchia has not been in the squad since November 2011, while Gilardino last made an appearance in September of the same year.
Lazio midfielder Antonio Candreva has been given the chance to make what would be only his third Italy appearance, while midfielder Marco Verratti's performances for Paris Saint-Germain have earned him a chance for a second cap.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Emiliano Viviano (Fiorentina)
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Federico Balzaretti (Roma), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit Saint Peterburg/RUS), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)
Midfielders: Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City), Mattia Destro (Roma), Stephan El Shaarawy (AC Milan), Alberto Gilardino (Bologna), Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus), Pablo Osvaldo (Roma)
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