Wounded and at bay, Italy may find this a step too far

Scandals, suspensions and injuries have taken their toll on Cesare Prandelli's team

Gdansk

"Fill Europe with Blue" runs the slogan on the Italy team bus, although the dominant colour of the Gdansk Arena is amber, to commemorate the trade that made this the wealthiest seaport on the Baltic. Cesare Prandelli's team are, however, immersed in a deeper shade of brown.

The dawn raid on Italian football headquarters at Coverciano, near Florence, produced the kind of shockwaves that make the divisions between John Terry and Rio Ferdinand seem mere cocktail chatter. Unlike Domenico Criscito, Terry had not been forced to open his door by police, to have his room searched and to be told he was under investigation for match fixing.

They had photographs and, although the left-back said they were "just ones of me having dinner with some Genoa fans", one of them happened to be of a Bosnian alleged to have deep roots in the underworld of sport. Suddenly Italy were propelled towards 1982 and 2006, when they had won World Cups in the teeth of similar scandals that enveloped respectively Paolo Rossi and Juventus. They had gone to each tournament feeling like criminals and emerged with the greatest prize of all. So ran the commentaries.

As Barcelona's Gerard Pique pointed out before preparing to face the Italians this evening: "It seems Italy are not focused; that they are hurt but it is just when you think they will do a bad job that they do the best job."

It is to Prandelli's credit that he dismissed this kind of talk as cliché and claptrap. Prandelli acted decisively in a way that the FA did not with Terry. Criscito was dropped immediately and, given that Prandelli had invited Simone Farina, a Serie B player who turned down 200,000 euros to fix a match, to train with the Azzurri he could probably do nothing else, although he deprived himself of his best left-back.

"The pressure would be more than any human being could bear," said Prandelli, although Leonardo Bonucci, also under investigation albeit on flimsier evidence, is likely to face Spain beneath the amber stands. Both manager and captain have paid a price for the bribery allegations that have left their tidemark on Italian football. When in 2006 Calciopoli – the attempts by Juventus and others to influence referees – burst its banks, Gianluigi Buffon, who would rank with Dino Zoff as the greatest goalkeeper to have played for Italy, found himself relegated to Serie B with Juventus. Prandelli had taken Fiorentina to qualification for the Champions League. Now, they found themselves 15th.

In Germany six years ago, Marcello Lippi had used Calciopoli to instil a siege mentality that saw Italy win the World Cup while conceding two goals in the tournament. Maybe this was what Buffon, who had been accused by the Italian media of handing over 1.5m euros to a betting shop – in return for 20 Rolex watches, was his explanation – to make an impassioned appeal on his Facebook page.

"Your support will be decisive," is how he began his address to Italian fans who were outnumbered on Gdansk's elegant streets by those from Spain. "It would be the strongest signal against those who want to create divisions between us and you. Start thinking for yourselves and don't be fooled by those who want to stir up trouble."

Even without the scandal, there would be question marks over this Italian team, who planned two warm-ups for the tournament. The first, against Luxembourg – a strange choice of opponent in any case – was cancelled because of an earthquake. The second, against Russia, was lost 3-0.

Had Giuseppe Rossi not wrecked his cruciate ligaments and had Antonio Cassano not suffered a form of heart failure as his Milan side flew home after a 3-2 win in Rome, there would have been fewer doubts.

Earlier this season, Prandelli had suspended Mario Balotelli. Now after the young striker became the latest victim of racism, this time from the internet's wilder shores, his manager said he would "give him a hug" if it spread to the stands, adding that he expected the striker to do his talking on the pitch. Right now, the pitch, even facing Spain, is probably where Italy feel safest.

A date of destiny

You can almost date when Spain and Italy's paths began to diverge: 22 June 2008 – the night of their European Championship quarter-final. Italy were world champions and had never lost a competitive game to Spain. It finished goalless and a penalty shoot-out was won by Cesc Fabregas.

"We knew this would be the key game," said Xabi Alonso. "Spain had been eliminated in so many quarter-finals or last-16 games and we wanted to change this history. It was the moment that we knew was a turning point and it took a burden off our backs. It set us free."

In the final in the same stadium, the Ernst Happel, Fernando Torres would dance past Philipp Lahm and clip the ball over Jens Lehmann to win Spain a first trophy since 1964.

There would be further drama at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where Italy's attempts to defend their trophy floundered in humiliations against New Zealand and Slovakia.

After Torres' World Cup-winning goal two years ago, the Chelsea forward spent a year left out of Spain squads. But Vicente Del Bosque is likely to ask him to lead his attack in Group C's pivotal match.

Tim Rich

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players