By Paolo Menicucci
Alberto Gilardino celebrated his 50th Serie A goal on Sunday, before adding the 51st in added time to earn Parma FC a vital point in their bid to escape relegation. Italy coach Marcello Lippi was at the Stadio Tardini to watch his striker in action ahead of Saturday's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Scotland and was delighted with what he witnessed.
"Gilardino is very young but he's already a charismatic figure and will be extremely important for this national team," Lippi said. "He is very mature for his age and has already proved he can push the whole group towards the right direction."
The striker has already scored 16 goals for Parma this season and is ready to bring his enthusiasm into the Azzurri fold, telling uefa.com: "I'm very happy to be in Italy’s squad again. I did everything I could in the last few months in order to convince Lippi to call me up again because the game against Scotland is very important in terms of qualifying for the next World Cup."
Italy are leading Group 5 with nine points from four games, but Norway and Slovenia are just two points behind meaning Lippi's men cannot afford any slips at home against a Scottish side which has earned only two points in this qualifying campaign.
Gilardino is sure that playing at the San Siro will help his side to earn an important victory. "Playing in this fantastic stadium in front of many fans makes this game even more special and prestigious. It's one of those games a player never wants to miss."
Since making his debut last September in the first game of Italy's World Cup qualifying campaign, a 2-1 win against Norway in Palermo, Gilardino has played four times for the Azzurri and scored twice. "Everything went particularly well since my first day with this national team. I think it's a wonderful group.
It's great to train and play with so many great players."
After scoring 23 goals for Parma in 2003/04 and leading Italy's Under-21 side to victory in their UEFA European Championship last summer, Gilardino had no difficulties in adapting to his new team-mates in the senior set-up. "There are so many real champions in this squad, players who are great both from the technical and human point of view. They are all very good, low profile and determined persons. So it was very easy to become a member of the group."
Gilardino is particularly happy to have the opportunity to work with a coach like Lippi. "He is a great coach, no doubt about that," the Parma player said. "He has always worked with great teams and won many trophies during his career. He can certainly do his job in the best possible way."
Born on 5 July 1982, the same day that Paolo Rossi scored a famous hat-trick as Italy defeated Brazil 3-2 in the World Cup finals, Gilardino looks destined to become the man who can lead the Azzurri to their fourth world crown, 22 years after their last success.
"We are all working very hard because we hope and believe that we can achieve a great result in Germany," he said. "We want to bring back to Italy a trophy that Italian fans have been waiting for for more than 20 years." If Gilardino displays the form and scoring touch of the last two seasons, the Italian dream could easily become a reality.
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