Italy will be without Mario Balotelli as they try to thwart Spain’s attempts to win the one international trophy to thus far elude them in their extraordinary era of dominance. The Milan front man, who has started each of his country’s three games so far in Brazil and scored twice, has already returned home with a strained left thigh. And coach Cesare Prandelli has confirmed that experienced Bologna striker Alberto Gilardino will be the man to take Balotelli’s spot.

“Balotelli’s place will go to Gilardino,” he revealed, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. “He’s a reliable player. He knows where the goal is. It’s a shame Mario is out, as he really wanted to play. We may lose in terms of individual quality, but we can gain in terms of the quality in our general play.”

There is better news, with Italy likely to have Andrea Pirlo back after the midfield maestro missed the 4-2 defeat to Brazil with an injury. Daniele de Rossi was also absent for that loss but will return from suspension. Prandelli has refused to comment on suggestions that he will revert to a back three, but has practiced with that setup in training. Italy had much success with a three-man backline against Spain in the opening match of Euro 2012 when they secured a 1-1 draw.

Spain, of course, will be hoping Thursday’s meeting in Fortaleza more closely resembles the two sides’ meeting in the final of that competition when La Roja ran out scintillating 4-0 victors. And coach Vicente del Bosque is likely to have only two changes from the side that was victorious in Kiev 12 months ago. Pedro is set to keep his place ahead of David Silva, while Xabi Alonso was ruled out of the Confederations Cup through injury.

Unlike in the European Championship, Del Bosque has selected a traditional striker throughout this tournament. The only real selection doubt for Spain concerns who will fill that role, with Roberto Soldado coming under pressure from Fernando Torres after the Chelsea striker scored minutes after coming off the bench last time out against Nigeria. The man who fulfilled the false nine role in last year’s final, Cesc Fabregas, is expected to recover from a muscle problem that led to him being taken off on Sunday.


Spain (probable)

G: Casillas

D: Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba

M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta

Fabregas, Soldado, Fabregas


Italy (probable)

G: Buffon

D: Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini

M: Maggio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Giaccherini

Candreva, Marchisio

F: Gilardino


Where to watch: The second Confederations Cup semifinal will kick-off from the Estadio Castelao at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3