FORTALEZA, Brazil (AP) — Maybe Mario Balotelli's absence will have a positive effect on Italy.

Coach Cesare Prandelli is hoping that without his strongest player, the Azzurri will gel together as a more solid unit in the Confederations Cup semifinal vs. Spain on Thursday.

Prandelli says, "We lose something in terms of quality but maybe it can improve the quality of our play."

Prandelli announced that Alberto Gilardino will take Balotelli's spot at center forward.

Gilardino shot to prominence under Prandelli at Parma a decade ago and also played for the manager at Fiorentina.

Prandelli says, "He's a reliable player, a generous player, a reference point for the squad and a player who knows how to score goals. ... His numbers prove that."