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


"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

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits