- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) - For the first time since the World Cup, defender Andrea Barzagli is back in the Italy team.

The Juventus defender, who said Tuesday he feared his career could have ended because of injury, has been included in Antonio Conte’s squad for Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Bulgaria and a friendly with England three days later.

Barzagli, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, made his return to Juventus this month following surgery on his right foot in July.

“I played three matches in one week so I would say that I was ready to be called up,” said Barzagli, who returned to training in September but was still in persistent pain and faced more time out after it was revealed he has a stress fracture in his heel.

“It’s horrible not to play and not to be in touch with your teammates at your club and the national team,” he added. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to play again because of the pain I was in.”

Barzagli played a key role when Juventus won three straight Serie A titles under Conte, and has also been a mainstay for the national team, with 50 appearances since making his debut at the end of 2004.

The 33-year-old defender, who was also part of the Italy team which finished runner-up at the 2012 European Championship, said Euro 2016 would likely be his last appearance for the Azzurri.

“The aim is to get to the Euros, then I think I will end my time with the national team,” Barzagli said. “I will be 35, I don’t have that extra something which (Gianluigi) Buffon and (Andrea) Pirlo have, and I think that Italy should rejuvenate and trust in talents such as (Daniele) Rugani, (Alessio) Romagnoli and others.”

Italy is behind Croatia on goal difference at the top of Group H, with both sides having won three matches and drawn one.

Barzagli also spoke about the debate on foreign-born players after Conte was criticized by Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini for calling up Sampdoria’s Brazilian-born striker Eder and Palermo’s Argentine-born midfielder Franco Vazquez.

“There have always been ‘oriundi,’” Barzagli said, using the Italian word for foreign-born players. “There are rules, if they can be called up it’s right that they have been because that means they are doing well in the league.

“I don’t see why there should be debate, other nations have them, too. If they are good, if they can give us a hand, they’re welcome in the national team.”

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