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Football | Italy

Italy celebrates © Reuters Images

Dutch, Italy set for vibrant friendly



The Netherlands are without some of their top players when they host Italy in the Dutch capital in a big-name friendly on Wednesday.

Wesley Sneijder missed the first half of the season over a contractual dispute with Inter Milan, before moving last month to Galatasaray, and forwards Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben have recently recovered from injuries, which convinced manager Louis van Gaal to rest them.

"The Dutch team should not act as a rehabilitation centre," van Gaal was quoted as saying.

Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who has played rarely in Italy at Roma, and John Heitinga are also out, while the attack package could see Robin van Persie play next to former AC Milan Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Van Gaal took over for a second stint with the Orange squad last July and has gradually rebuilt confidence in a team that crashed out with zero points in the group phase at Euro 2012.

His team's campaign for the 2014 World Cup has been convincing, with a perfect tally of 12 points from four games to top their qualification group.

He said that on Wednesday his team will make things hard for Italy.

"They are No 4 in the world (Netherlands are eighth), but I think we can win," he said.

The Azzurri top their World Cup qualification group - on 10 points from four games - and expect much upfront from Mario Balotelli, who at the weekend debuted with a brace for AC Milan as he rejoined the Serie A after two seasons at Manchester City.

Balotelli and Milan teammate Stephan El Shaarawy, on 15 league goals, have already played together under Prandelli, who said they can offer great prospectives to Italian football.

"(Balotelli) has a will to improve," Prandelli told public radio channel RAI. "He truly has a chance to leave an important mark on this national team."

Prandelli said he believes in the 22-year-old Balotelli, despite his frequent tantrums on and off the pitch, which seemingly led to his departure from the English champions.

"I still believe in him, though," the coach said. "He has never disappointed with the national team. I hope that he decides to invest in himself and attempts to become one of the best in the world. He should let his football do the talking."

Prandelli welcomes back Lazio's Federico Marchetti, a goalkeeper who has not been called up since the 2010 World Cup but could be the heir of veteran star Gianluigi Buffon.

Davide Santon of Newcastle also reappears with the Azzurri, while Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus remains at home after being suspended for contesting a referee call - a behaviour sanctioned under Prandelli's ethical code.

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