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Balotelli left off Italy’s squad for World Cup playoffs

March 18, 2022 GMT
Sampdoria's Francesco Caputo, foreground, vies for the ball with  Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, during the Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and Juventus, at Luigi Ferraris Stadium, in Genoa, Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (Tano Pecoraro, LaPresse via AP)
Sampdoria's Francesco Caputo, foreground, vies for the ball with  Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, during the Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and Juventus, at Luigi Ferraris Stadium, in Genoa, Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (Tano Pecoraro, LaPresse via AP)
Sampdoria's Francesco Caputo, foreground, vies for the ball with  Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, during the Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and Juventus, at Luigi Ferraris Stadium, in Genoa, Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (Tano Pecoraro, LaPresse via AP)
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Sampdoria's Francesco Caputo, foreground, vies for the ball with Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, during the Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and Juventus, at Luigi Ferraris Stadium, in Genoa, Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (Tano Pecoraro, LaPresse via AP)
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Sampdoria's Francesco Caputo, foreground, vies for the ball with Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, during the Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and Juventus, at Luigi Ferraris Stadium, in Genoa, Italy, Saturday, March 12, 2022. (Tano Pecoraro, LaPresse via AP)

ROME (AP) — Mario Balotelli was left off Italy’s squad for the World Cup playoffs, and the European champion was also without midfielder Manuel Locatelli, who tested positive for COVID-19.

Italy faces North Macedonia in Palermo, Sicily, on Thursday. If the Azzurri beat North Macedonia, they will play at the winner of a game between Portugal and Turkey for a spot at the tournament in Qatar this year.

Italy already failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Missing two straight World Cups would be an unprecedented low point for the four-time champion.

Balotelli was at Italy’s three-day training camp in January, three years after his last appearance for the Azzurri.

The Italian soccer federation said on Friday that Locatelli will join the squad following an isolation period. That likely means he won’t be available until a possible second match of the playoffs.

Also missing is forward Federico Chiesa, who has been out since January following surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

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Center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have both just returned from injury.

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Italy:

Goalkeepers: Alessio Cragno (Cagliari), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Pierluigi Gollini (Tottenham), Salvatore Sirigu (Genoa).

Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter Milan), Cristiano Biraghi (Fiorentina), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Lyon), Alessandro Florenzi (AC Milan), Luiz Felipe (Lazio), Gianluca Mancini (Roma).

Midfielders: Nicolò Barella (Inter Milan), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Stefano Sensi (Sampdoria), Sandro Tonali (AC Milan), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain).

Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Joao Pedro (Cagliari), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo) Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio), Nicolò Zaniolo (Roma).

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