Ruthless Prandelli rules with an iron fist as Italy take on Slovenia

The New Azzurri, their head coach Cesare Prandelli has promised, will be made up of footballers committed to setting good examples, "making the people proud of them".

MILAN // When the Italy team line up just before taking the field in Ljubjana tonight, the match officials, besides checking the players for earrings and other items of restricted on-field jewellery, should also pause for a quick look at their halos.

The New Azzurri, their head coach Cesare Prandelli has promised, will be made up of footballers committed to setting good examples, "making the people proud of them".

These are not empty words, as Prandelli showed in picking his squad for this latest Euro 2012 qualifier.

Excluded are Mario Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi, specifically because those two players are serving European suspensions for their clubs, both for offences committed in the last round of European club competitions.

In other words, Prandelli is adding his own, additional sanction to the red cards and subsequent Uefa club bans the players must serve

Balotelli was dismissed for having dangerously lifted his foot high against Goran Popov from Dynamo Kiev as Manchester City last week went out of the Europa League.

De Rossi was sent off and banned for three games for elbowing Dario Srna of Shaktar Donetsk as Roma were eliminated from the Champions League.

"The ethics code is with us and non-negotiable," said Prandelli, who had spelt out last year that his code means players must meet certain standards, even when they are not on international duty, if they wish to represent his Italy.

While he regretted not being able to call on "two important players", Prandelli again reminded Balotelli and De Rossi "they are examples for younger people".

Prandelli would not be drawn into whether he would like his standards to be adopted by other international managers.

He diplomatic enough to know that to answer that question might be to shine an awkward light on his compatriot, Fabio Capello, the manager of England, who last week gave back to John Terry the captaincy of his country after just over a year in which Terry had been stripped of it following allegations about his private life.

Laurent Blanc, the France coach, has also been obliged recently to make selection decisions with moral arguments being put to him one way or the other.

Blanc has selected Patrice Evra for France's weekend qualifiers even though Chantal Jouanno, the French Minister for Sport, told him not to.

Evra served a five-match French Federation ban for his part in a training ground mutiny at the last World Cup. Jouanno thought Evra should never play for Les Bleus again.

Some in Italy have congratulated Prandelli, who may not simply be acting as a moral guardian but also trying to address the practical issue of making the Azzurri more popular.

"The team needs to be liked by the people," he said, taking on the job after Italy's first-round exit at the 2010 World Cup. Popularity draws bigger crowds.

Other Italians have mused that it was just as well Rino Gattuso had already announced his retirement from international football.

Gattuso has a four-match Uefa club ban pending for having directed a butt at Joe Jordan, the Tottenham Hotspur assistant coach, while his Milan were slumping out of the Champions League.

And there have been quizzical murmurings too about Prandelli's citing Francesco Totti "as the sort of player kids should learn from".

Totti is a long-term Azzurri retiree, but he also has the distinction of having been sent off for Italy at the 2002 World Cup and then banned at the next tournament - Euro 2004 - for spitting at an opponent. Those were both bad tournaments for Italy.

But even when Italy have soared as a national side, it has not been because they flew with the wings of angels.

The world champions of 1982, it will be remembered, were reeling from a widespread betting scandal that rocked Serie A, and in which Paolo Rossi, Italy's hero and leading scorer, was directly implicated and later punished with a lengthy ban.

The 2006 World Cup winners, coached by Marcelo Lippi, won the final against France as they awaited the punishments to be inflicted on clubs like Juventus and Milan - for whom many played for the "calciopoli" scandal, in which Serie referees and linesman had been manipulated by clubs.

That tournament, it may be remembered, began with an Italian red card, issued to a combative midfielder who had left an opponent, the United States' Brian McBride, bleeding from the head.

The assailant? Daniele De Rossi. The weapon? His elbow. It seems De Rossi really may need extra motivation to stop himself becoming a repeat offender.