Senin, 04 Juni 2012

Euro 2012: Italy up against it again

*The last time Italy entered a tournament in crisis was in 2006 at the height of the Calciopoli scandal, when the dark side of that nation's football showed its face in daylight again.

Gli Azzurri traveled to the World Cup in Germany under a cloud but came home with the trophy.
 
1980 saw another match-fixing expose, Totonero, blacken the name of calcio. Yet Italy ended up winning the 1982 World Cup, thanks in no small part to six goals from striker Paolo Rossi, who only appeared because his three-year ban in the wake of Totonero had been reduced to two on appeal.

Euro 2012 coach Cesare Prandelli will be hoping a similar siege mentality envelops his squad and that this time around they can draw on the same hidden reserves of strength which carried Enzo Bearzot's and Marcello Lippi's elevens to their famous triumphs. The latest calcioscomesse (match-fixing) scandal has already claimed the scalp of Italy left-back Domenico Criscito and there was more bad news today when centre-back Andrea Barzagli was ruled out of the group stage with a thigh injury.

Italy might appear a perennial giant but are more of an enigma. At times they sink without trace unexpectedly (Euro '96, Euro 2004) or else sweep to the final when no-one foresees it (Spain '82, USA '94 or Germany 2006). There is definitely something special about those blue shirts and tournaments, but the Azzurri do not have a midas touch. Just look at how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the dying seconds of the Euro 2000 final.

With less than a week to go before Euro 2012, Italy's preparations are as troubled as ever. Friday's 3-0 defeat to Russia in Zurich was their third loss in a row, after home defeats to Uruguay and the USA. It was also their third game without scoring a goal, despite the attacking talents of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.

The combustible Balotelli limped out of training today and last week confirmed his highly-strung soul when he promised to "kill" any banana-throwing racists he comes across in Eastern Europe and go to jail if necessary.

Italy the nation is also in choppy water amid deep economic gloom and the unedifying spectacle of an unelected technocratic government, after the ineffable Silvio Berlusconi finally relinquished his grip on power last November. The national team carry an even bigger burden than usual on their backs. Football can take people's minds off a recession and the soccer-mad Italian press will not miss a beat during Euro 2012.

A win in Kiev for the Azzurri and the nation buys itself some time.

So business as usual for the much-maligned traditional slow-starters to tournaments, who often end up having the last laugh by winning them.

And if Italy were in any doubt about what happens when the going gets tough, the Azzurri kick-off in Gdansk on Sunday with the small matter of a Mediterranean derby against reigning European champions and World Cup holders Spain.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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