ROME (AP) — Italy coach Cesare Prandelli issued an appeal Tuesday for a law change that would allow children of immigrants to play for the country's national teams before they turn 18.
That's a chance that Mario Balotelli never had. "Other nations are ahead of us in this department. I think and hope that soon these new Italians will have a chance to gain citizenship," Prandelli said at the Foreign Press Association.
Under current law, children of legal immigrants born in Italy can only apply for citizenship once they turn 18. And FIFA rules require that only citizens play for national teams. Prandelli has followed players who have the skill level to be called up to Italy's youth squads but can't be used because they are not citizens.
"I'm not going to name anyone, because then tomorrow everyone would go interview these two or three players," Prandelli said. "But there are some interesting players." Prandelli is not alone on this subject.
Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first black Cabinet minister and head of integration, has made changing the citizenship law her top priority. Kyenge has applauded the way Prandelli has integrated players like Balotelli, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants and raised by an Italian adoptive family, and defender Angelo Ogbonna, who was born in Cassino to Nigerian immigrants.
Neither Balotelli nor Ogbonna were allowed to play for Italy's under-16 or under-18 squads. "These kids are citizens. They live in the country and they contribute to society," Prandelli said. "I think we could take a big benefit from these new Italians. They bring different cultures and experiences but they have the same spirit and feelings for the nation as the rest of us.
"Balotelli feels 100 percent Italian," Prandelli added. Parliamentary committees are studying potential changes to the law. Meanwhile, Prandelli was preparing to travel to Brazil for Friday's World Cup draw, where he'll be hoping for a tough group.
"Traditionally, if it's a difficult group we arrive prepared. If it's a group that a lot of people call 'easy,' we usually end up having a tough time," the coach said. "That's what our history tells us. That's how Italians are."
Indeed, Italy was embarrassingly eliminated after the first round of the last World Cup as defending champions despite a group that featured New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia — none of which come close to being known as football superpowers. And the Azzurri flourished at last year's European Championship after opening against defending champion Spain.
Still, Prandelli is hoping to avoid certain squads, and he named Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina as the tournament favorites. "I hope not to find Germany in our group," he said. Italy is not one of the eight seeded squads for the draw.
"We should realize we're not the best anymore," he said. "But we'll be ready." Among other issues, Prandelli voiced support for a rule allowing one timeout in each half during matches played with extreme heat or humidity at the World Cup in Brazil.
"If we want to offer the world a show we need to make sure the players are in condition to perform," Prandelli said. Italy was beaten by Spain on penalties in the semifinals of this year's Confederations Cup in a match played amid extreme heat in humidity in Fortaleza, Brazil.
"It had never happened before that eight players asked to be substituted during a match," Prandelli said. "It's a real concern." In October, FIFA's executive committee approved cooling breaks after the 30th minute of the first and second halves if the temperature exceeds 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).
After the World Cup, Prandelli's contract is due to expire and he said a decision on his future would be made known before the tournament. "I'll talk about it with the (association) president and it will be clear before the World Cup," he said. "We won't go there without doing that, otherwise we'll have this question every day."
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