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On his first day of training with Marcello Lippi’s Italy squad in November, midfielder Antonio Candreva was in for a big surprise when he was told he would be playing in the friendly against Holland the following evening.

Lippi told the 22-year-old to “keep calm”, adding that if he had called him up it was for a good reason and not just to make up the numbers. In other words, play your cards right and you could be going to South Africa.

Speaking after that game, which ended goalless, Lippi told TV viewers that Candreva could be a player who will be around the national team for some long time. Lippi underlined the point by picking Candreva for his second cap four days later against Sweden – a game that Italy won 1-0.

On his trail
At the beginning of this season, Candreva was hardly a household name. Indeed, perhaps the only fans who could claim to know him well were those at Livorno, where he played a big role in their promotion-winning season in Serie B last year. After his performance against Holland, however, big clubs such as Chelsea and Inter were allegedly on his trail.

Not surprisingly, he proved to be one of the more interesting movers in the January transfer market, joining Juventus on a loan deal (from Udinese, who had loaned him to Livorno) with a price tag of £6million on his head. Given Lippi’s past links with Juve – and given that many think he had a role last summer in persuading Juventus to purchase two of his World Cup winners, in Fabio Cannavaro and Fabio Grosso – there are those who believe the national coach was behind the deal. Not that Juventus needed to ring up Lippi to hear his opinion of the player – he had already made that all too clear and very publicly.

It would be nice to say that, since then, everything has worked out…but that’s not quite true. As Juventus crashed out of both the scudetto contest and the Europa League, beaten 4-1 by Roy Hodgson’s Fulham, Candreva has not convinced everyone. There have even been those who suggest that he is really not Juventus “officer” material.

In truth, as we all know, when a team is playing badly, it is almost impossible for a newcomer to make a telling impact. Lippi knows this as well, if not better than most, and is likely to stick with a player who combines work rate with an “educated” right foot.

Not for nothing is Mauro Camoranesi reportedly worried that he may lose not only his club spot but also his national team place to the Roma-born youngster.

Time will tell but it seems more than probable that Candreva will be on the plane to South Africa. The player himself is certainly hopeful, saying: “I hope to go to South Africa, that’s only normal once you’ve been called into the national squad. But I’ve got to keep playing well in Serie A, not just for one day but from here to May.”

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