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Balotelli and Immobile: Italy's final throw of dice

There are two World Cups going on in Brazil, one in the warmer north and another in the cooler south, and Italy are bearing the brunt of playing in the heat and humidity, according to midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

Ciro Immobile, left,could be on from the start for Italy against Uruguay in partnership with the eccentric Mario Balotelli. Picture: Antonio Clanni/AP
Ciro Immobile, left,could be on from the start for Italy against Uruguay in partnership with the eccentric Mario Balotelli. Picture: Antonio Clanni/AP

Italy face Uruguay in an afternoon kick-off in Natal - a northern coastal city where temperatures have hovered around 30C during the day - after matches in muggy Manaus and the sunshine of Recife.

"These factors are definitely important, especially when you come to these countries with great heat and humidity and players more used to these conditions," Pirlo said. "There are two World Cups. One in the north and one in the south."

Four-times World Cup winners Italy, who like Uruguay have three points from two games, need a point from their final Group D fixture to reach the last 16 as they have a better goal difference than the South Americans.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said deploying an untested strike partnership of Mario Balotelli and in-form Ciro Immobile was a possibility. Praised for his positive 4-1-4-1 system after their opening victory over England, and then criticised for the same tactics after defeat by Costa Rica, Prandelli might switch to a 3-5-2 formation with injured midfielder Daniele De Rossi unlikely to figure.

This could pave the way for Immobile, who scored 22 goals in Serie A for Torino last season and came on as a late substitute against England.

"Immobile is a modern forward who can attack in depth and can play quite broadly, and he has a sense for goal," Prandelli said. "Nowadays, if you want to be a great champion, you have to have these characteristics."

Whatever the tactics, Gianluigi Buffon, the Italy captain, has warned his team-mates they must raise their game to avoid another World Cup "failure". The veteran goalkeeper said: "Now we have to send some positive signals and the only way to do that is to raise our game against Uruguay.

"We need to show some strength and pride and come up with a win. If we end up going out in the first round, it will be a failure."

Buffon, 36, fit again after missing the England game with an ankle injury, said of the call to bring in Immobile: "Of course, the coach will make the call, but we're open to everything. But you also have to remember Mario and Immobile have never played together. That could be risky, or it could be to our benefit."

Uruguay are not unfamiliar opponents for Italy, with Buffon having saved three penalties in a shoot-out victory over them in last year's Confederations Cup.

The South Americans were also beaten by surprise package Costa Rica but now look a deadlier proposition with Luis Suarez fit again and leading their attack.

Suarez kept Uruguay's hopes alive with two goals against England and forms a formidable attack pairing with Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani, a player familiar to Italy after six years with Palermo and Napoli.

Despite that, the pressure remains on La Celeste and their coach Oscar Taberez to deliver.

Tabarez said: "I have a group who are used to resisting pressure and who react to it in a good way. The pressure was worse against England.

"They've [Italy] been world champions four times. It will be a tough challenge for us, but I believe we'll have our chances."

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