Italy face Georgia without absent friends

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MILAN, Oct 11 (Reuters) World champions Italy must forget about absent friends and regroup for Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia in Genoa.

A win for second-placed Italy would leave them on the brink of qualification from Group B with just a trip to leaders Scotland and a home match against Faroe Islands to come next month.

However, the build-up to the game has been overshadowed by Roberto Donadoni's decision not to call up World Cup-winning strikers Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi.

The coach hinted that Del Piero, 33 next month, and Inzaghi, 34, were getting too old for international football and looks set to put his faith in Bayern Munich's Luca Toni, Udinese's Antonio Di Natale and Vincenzo Iaquinta of Juventus.

Iaquinta, who started in place of the struggling Del Piero for Juve last weekend, looks to have recovered from a swollen knee to take his place in Donadoni's three-pronged attack.

Di Natale, who scored twice in Italy's 2-1 qualifying win in Ukraine last month, missed Udinese's last game because of his mother's death but is expected to play on his 30th birthday.

Toni has made a flying start to his Bundesliga career with eight goals, but that has not stopped everyone talking about Del Piero, once the golden boy of Italian soccer.

''His adventure with the national team is not over. Donadoni has not said that. He just didn't want to humilate him by keeping him on the bench or in the stands,'' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon told reporters.

More important may be the absence of captain Fabio Cannavaro, who is suspended, while fellow defenders Marco Materazzi and Gianluca Zambrotta are out injured and Giorgio Chiellini is doubtful with a knock.

Alessandro Nesta and Francesco Totti have retired from international football, leaving Donadoni with sparse options for a game his inexperienced side should still win, especially as Georgia face an injury crisis.

In addition to captain Kakha Kaladze and experienced midfielder Levan Kobiashvili, Georgia's German coach Klaus Toppmoeller is without defender Mate Gvinianidze, winger Davit Mujiri and striker Davit Siradze.

Possible teams: Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Massimo Oddo, Christian Panucci, Andrea Barzagli, Fabio Grosso; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini; Vincenzo Iaquinta, Luca Toni, Antonio Di Natale.

Georgia: Giorgi Lomaia; Zurab Khizanishvili, Malkhaz Asatiani, Giorgi Shashiashvili, Ilia Kandelaki; Jaba Kankava, Davit Kvirkvelia, Zurab Menteshashvili, Levan Tskitishvili, Levan Kenia (or Lasha Jakobia); Giorgi Demetradze.

REUTERS BJR DS1405

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