Cannavaro set to return for Italy match

September 4, 2008

LARNACA, Cyprus, Sept. 4 (Reuters) - Captain Fabio Cannavaro is fit enough to mark his return to international action in Italy's opening World Cup qualifier in Cyprus on Saturday.

The Real Madrid defender has not played a competitive game since damaging ankle ligaments training with the world champions before Euro 2008, a tournament where his leadership was sorely missed.

'I'm fine. I was ready for the first match of the (Spanish) championship but the coach selected those who had had more preparation than me,' Cannavaro, who was on the bench for Real's 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, told reporters.

Striker Luca Toni is also expected to be in the starting line-up after a calf muscle tear prevented him from playing in last month's 2-2 friendly draw with Austria, the opening match of Marcello Lippi's second stint in charge of the national team.

The Bayern Munich centre forward will be looking to return to form after Euro 2008, when his inability to find the net was one of the problems to beset Roberto Donadoni's side.

Lippi, who makes his competitive return after being recalled to take Donadoni's place in the Azzurri dugout, warned his men not to underestimate the Cypriots.

'The easier we consider the challenge, the more difficult it will be,' the 2006 World Cup-winning coach told a news conference earlier this week.

'Cyprus is an insidious trip, they are a national team that play well and we'll face them on a field without much grass. We'll have to be careful.'

Lippi has called up Siena's Gianluca Curci to replace reserve goalkeeper Marco Amelia, who withdrew from the squad with a back problem on Wednesday.

The hosts, who beat Wales and Ireland and drew with Germany in Euro 2008 qualifiers, can take heart from the recent exploits of their clubs.

Anorthosis Famagusta overcame Greece's Olympiakos to become the first Cypriot team to reach the Champions League group stage and Omonia Nicosia knocked AEK Athens out of the UEFA Cup.

'We are taking on a very strong opponent, but we will try to continue where we left off in the last season,' captain Ioannis Okkas said. 'We have to prove that Cypriot football has improved. We are doing well, but our feet are firmly on the ground.'