[EURO 2010] Qualifying for Euro 2012 begins on Friday, and several major national teams have recalled stars who missed the 2010 World Cup. Here's a look at five
players on the comeback trail ...
ANTONIO CASSANO (Italy). The bad boy of Italian soccer was overlooked by Marcello Lippi for the World Cup but he'll start up front against Estonia. Coach Cesare Prandelli says Cassano is a key to Italy's qualifying campaign. "He's a player who always needs affection, that's the key to the door with Antonio," he said of the Sampdoria forward. "If he feels someone is treating him sincerely with affection, he opens up completely, if he doesn't feel that affection, he turns in on himself."
NANI (Portugal). Nani, a late World Cup scratch due to a a bruised left collarbone, is back in the Portugal squad for its opener against Cyprus. Nani's return is good news for a team that will be without injured captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal also lost midfielder Deco, winger Simao Sabrosa and defender Paulo Ferreira, who have all retired from international soccer since the World Cup.
ANDREA PIRLO (Italy). Italy needs to go on a youth movement following its pathetic World Cup campaign during which its veterans flopped, so it's ironic that one of the key players to Italy's Euro 2012 qualifying hopes is 31-year-old captain Andrea Pirlo, who missed the 2010 finals with a calf injury. He will join Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo in a three-man midfield as the Azzurri open their Euro campaign against Estonia in Tallinn.
LOUIS SAHA (France). The Everton forward should earn his 19th cap when France plays Belarus on Friday. It will be the first time he has played for the Bleus, rebuilding after the debacle at the World Cup, in four years. “My luck has been terrible in the past,” the 32-year-old added. “I would be fine for six months, then the day the France squad would be announced I’d get injured. It has been hard to take. I would not wish a similar fate on anyone, and I have struggled to overcome these setbacks. But I’m well prepared both mentally and physically now. I have the legs and hunger of a 20-year-old.”
RUUD VAN NISTELROOY (Netherlands). Van Nistelrooy was recalled for the first time since the Euro '08 finals. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk didn't pick van Nistelrooy during the two-year cycle that ended with the Dutch reaching the World Cup final in South Africa, but they are thin in attack because of injuries to Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. "I'm taking it very seriously, but it feels like a joke," Van Nistelrooy says. "I'm back. I'm happy."