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Scandal on Italy's Mind ahead of WC

SiN2010-05-04 05:03:32 +0000 #1
The Italian team travels to its German World Cup base Wednesday hoping to overcome the distraction of the biggest corruption scandal in Italian soccer history. "They're going to have to be attentive to their behavior," Italian players' association president Sergio Campana said. "With all that's going on in our sport, this team is going to be kept under the microscope even more than usual." The team was due to depart from Pisa at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) and arrive in Duesseldorf at 6:50 p.m. (1650 GMT), then drive to its training base in nearby Duisburg. Several members of the team, including coach Marcello Lippi, have been directly or indirectly implicated in the scandal.

Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro was called in Saturday by prosecutors to explain his transfer two years ago from Inter Milan to Juventus. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon faces accusations of illegal betting.

The scandal centers on Juventus, which has five players on Italy's team, with accusations of match-fixing and referee arrangements. AC Milan, which also has five players on the team, is under investigation, too.

Multiple investigations are underway and penalties could be handed out during the World Cup. "Starting (Wednesday) we have to speak German and set aside the difficulties," defender Marco Materazzi said. "The World Cup is a huge opportunity for everyone. Over the past two years we've demonstrated that we're a great team, and now we have even more reason to show it."

Italy enters the tournament with an 18-match unbeaten streak, but is coming off two lackluster draws in warmups against Switzerland and Ukraine last week. "We drew twice but we also gave up very little ground and that's a good sign. Maybe we'll start slowly, but I'm convinced that we'll improve as we go along," Materazzi said.

Italy has some major lineup issues to clear up before its opener against Ghana on Monday. Playmaker Francesco Totti's condition remains the top concern. Last week against Switzerland, Totti played his first full match since breaking his leg in February but appeared far from top form. Another 30 minutes of action against Ukraine showed only minimal improvement.

Without Totti, Lippi usually inserts Alessandro Del Piero into the lineup as a third forward alongside Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni. But Del Piero doesn't appear at his best either.

In training Tuesday, Italy showed off another possible solution featuring a four-man midfield with Toni and Gilardino in attack.

Other concerns are injuries to starters Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Nesta and Gennaro Gattuso.

A left thigh injury will keep Zambrotta out against Ghana. Massimo Oddo is leading Cristian Zaccardo in the battle to replace him at right back.

Nesta, a key member of Italy's vaunted central defense, has a nagging right-thigh injury and is questionable for the first game. Materazzi will likely get the start if he isn't ready.

"Nesta is an idol of mine, but if he can't play I'll do my best to replace him," Materazzi said.

A few hours before the team departed Wednesday, a medical exam revealed a tear in Gattuso's right quadriceps that will keep him out of the first game, too, and perhaps the entire first round.

Gattuso is a key member of the Azzurri midfield. Like at AC Milan, he provides a tough, physical presence and covers more ground than nearly any other player on the team. AS Roma's Simone Perrotta is a possible replacement.



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