The Azzurri go into Poland and Ukraine with a black cloud hanging over their shoulders as more allegations of match-fixing sweep the nation, but can they defy the odds this summer?
By Alex Mott | Italy Expert
It's a damp May morning in Florence. Italy's training base at Coverciano is near silent. The Azzurri will train later today, but for now, all the players are asleep in their dormitories. Domenico Criscito is one of those players; the left-back has had a superb campaign for Zenit St Petersburg, and is virtually guaranteed a starting place in their opening game against Spain on June 10.
By midday, the 25-year-old has been arrested, issued a notice of investigation and is out of the squad for Euro 2012.
|TIMELINE OF ITALY CONTROVERSIES PRIOR TO INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENTS
||In 1980, Perugia striker Paolo Rossi was suspended from football for three years for match-fixing.
He then guided Italy to the World Cup two years later, winning the Golden Boot, and scoring the most famous hat-trick of all time in a 3-2 win over pre-tournament favourites Brazil.
||Fast forward 24 years, and Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi had been taped conversing with refereeing officials, hoping to influence results.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B, stripped of two league titles and Moggi banned for life from football.
In the same summer, Italy beat France 5-3 on penalties to win their fourth World Cup title.
Criscito is just one of a number of high-profile figures in Italian football to be tarnished by the 'Calcio Scommesse' brush. Lazio captain Stefano Mauri is one, Juventus boss Antonio Conte another, and they are all being investigated for alleged match-fixing.
Another scandal could well kill Italian football, as Prime Minister Mario Monti pointed out just a few weeks ago: “Football in Italy should be halted for two or three years to get over this scandal,” he said. “Its image is now tarnished”.
It has been six years since Calciopoli engulfed the sport in bribery, dodgy-dealing and suicide attempts. Only now are the scars beginning to heal on the peninsula. In 2006, Juve were relegated to Serie B and a host of other clubs were given significant points deductions. 2006 was also the year that Italy won their fourth World Cup
Coach Marcello Lippi used the Calciopoli scandal to create a siege mentality; an 'us-against-them' sensibility that proved wildly successful. The big question this time around is: can Cesare Prandelli promote the same kind of attitude and the same result?
The former Fiorentina boss has a difficult task on his hands; big characters such as Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano have proved tough to deal with in the past, injuries to Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini have decimated their backline, and a group containing the world and European champions, a Croatia side ranked eighth in the world and a Republic of Ireland side led by countryman Giovanni Trapattoni will be awkward to negotiate.
Prandelli has already warned he would have "no problem" with being asked to come home from the tournament by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
“If you told us that for the good of football we should not participate, it wouldn't be a problem for me,” he told Rai Sport. “There are things that I believe are more important. I dislike crusades. I prefer to face up to things and not take positions without considering the consequences.”
Tough words then from the Azzurri boss, but mind-games are nothing new pre-tournament. The only talking that really matters is in Gdansk on June 10 when Italy open up their Euro 2012 campaign against the holders Spain. The 54-year-old really has to earn his crust over the next couple of weeks: either turn the scandal into a reference point from which to unite, or watch as it becomes a divisive rift from which the team collapses.
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