Rome: Playmaker Andrea Pirlo was recalled by Italy at the age of 35 on Monday, less than four months after playing what was widely thought to be his final game for his country.
The 2006 World Cup winner, who missed the opening month of the Serie A season with a hip injury, was called up by coach Antonio Conte after forward Giacomo Bonaventura pulled out with a thigh injury, the Italian federation (FIGC) said.
Pirlo said last year that he would quit international football following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Italy`s campaign ended with a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay in their final group stage match.
Amid all the bitter recriminations which followed the match, including the resignation of both coach Cesare Prandelli and FIGC president Giancarlo Abete, it was almost completely forgotten that the game was Pirlo`s last for Italy.
Following Italy`s return home, however, he hinted that he would accept any future callup which became more likely when Conte, his coach for three successful seasons at Juventus, was appointed coach in July.
Italy are at home to Azerbaijan on Friday and visit Malta the following Monday, both Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Mario Balotelli is not in the squad, although Conte said that the maverick has not been excluded.Conte said that Balotelli, heavily criticised for his performance at the World Cup and left out of Conte`s first two matches in charge last month, needed more time to adapt after his move from AC Milan to Liverpool.
"I make selections, not exclusions," Conte told reporters at Italy’s training camp outside Florence.
"Balotelli has started on a new path and it`s not easy, he will be given time to integrate himself into a new championship. "I certainly follow him just as I follow all the players who are abroad." Conte also lavished praise on Southampton striker Graziano Pelle who has been given his first call-up at the age of 29. "Pelle has deserved his chance from every point of view," said Conte.
"He has scored 50 goals in the last two seasons (with Feyenoord) and he is also showing this season that he is a leading figure in a league that is more difficult than the Dutch one. "He is an example that here we will do things on merit; we have our eyes open and a player who does well in the league will get a chance."