New French revolution is in full swing

Tomorrow night's friendly with Norway will see none of the 22 men from France's disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa.

It is what happens in revolutions: yesterday's rebels turn into tomorrow's figureheads. Or as the France midfield player Samir Nasri put it, talking to compatriot reporters ahead of tomorrow night's friendly between Norway and Les Bleus: "Normally, you assume that those who have been left out are the ones who have done something wrong. This time, it's the guys who weren't there who have their chance."

Nasri, of Arsenal, is one of the 22 men in the first squad chosen by Laurent Blanc, the new France head coach, a party with a striking feature: none of the 23 players who travelled to South Africa for the disastrous World Cup expedition have been picked. As many as 13 could win their first caps in Oslo, all of them looking up to the likes of Nasri, Real Madrid's Karim Benzema and Lassana Diarra or Roma's Philippe Mexes as the new seniors, the leaders of Blanc's rebuild.

In London tonight, a makeover almost as radical will get under way for Italy, as they meet Ivory Coast at Upton Park. They too are under a new head coach - like Blanc, Cesare Prandelli had been appointed even before the Azzurri's defence of their World Cup fizzled out within three matches - and he is offering a looking-glass world for Italian fans to peer at. Antonio Cassano, once an apparently incorrigible rebel, assumes the rule of wise general, the experienced schemer in a forward line that will include two debutants, the headstrong teenager Mario Balotelli and the Brazil-born Amauri.

The Italians, who left South Africa with a mere two points in the group stage, are looking ahead with the sound of revolutionary rhetoric in the background. "Year Zero", the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport are calling this period, urging Italy to think creatively about starting with a clean slate. Prandelli, popular and admired for his work with Fiorentina and before that Parma, was always obliged to make changes, given the average age of the party his predecessor Marcello Lippi took to the World Cup. But he has shown that some of Lippi's dogmas will be breezily cast aside, or at least reviewed.

Cassano's good form for Sampdoria has for two years trailed a bandwagon of support for his international recall, to which Lippi's response was usually a comment along the lines of 'respecting the harmony of the group', the implication that Cassano, who confesses to having had a turbulent time while at Bari, Roma and Real Madrid and to some unprofessional lifestyle habits, would be more trouble, as a potential disruptive influence, than he was worth as an imaginative attacking player, of the type Italy appear short of.

As for Balotelli, enough coaches - namely Pierluigi Casiraghi with the Italy Under 21s, and Jose Mourinho with Inter Milan - have struggled to tame the striker that Lippi barely paused to consider taking him to the World Cup. Balotelli has found himself - not always, but too often because of his own actions or statements - involved in as many controversies, clashes with fans, bosses, opponents or colleagues, as successes in his short senior career. But he is a wonderful talent, with explosive pace, strength and aggression.

It is also in Italy's interest to respond to Balotelli's stated commitment to the Azzurri as the team he wants to represent internationally. His natural parents are both Ghanaians, and the African side, who reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, have been keen to persuade him that he should exercise his right to play for the Black Stars. Only when he has played a senior competitive game for Italy will that possibility disappear.

In the case of Amauri, who unlike Balotelli did not grow up in Italy, dual nationality seemed to count against him under Lippi, who showed scepticism about the Juventus striker's commitment to Italy, for whom Amauri qualified as a citizen only last year. Blanc started his job with a blank sheet of paper because of the mutiny of the France squad in South Africa. Once the players had refused to train one day there, as they slumped out of the tournament, the French Federation demanded they be dropped en masse for one game. So Blanc will not be resented by those he may eventually recall.

A member of the 1998 World Cup-winning squad, he starts off with a bank of popularity and is following the least liked head coach in Les Bleus' history, Raymond Domenech. Domenech effectively fell out with all his players in June, but had already antagonised Nasri and with Benzema, who said he preferred club football to national duty. After the mutiny, these are the young men best placed to seek new bounties. "It's not so much a second chance as our opportunity to take responsibility in a fresh beginning under a new coach," added Nasri. "We are 23 years old now, and so we don't have the excuses of youth. There's a train for us to catch, and we mustn't miss it."

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