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Italy's cause for concern

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012, 13.49CET
Richard Aikman explains the paranoia afflicting the Italian press and fans heading into the last set of Group C games, with memories of the Azzurri's UEFA EURO 2004 exit still raw.
by Richard Aiman
from Krakow
 
 
Published: Saturday 16 June 2012, 13.49CET

Italy's cause for concern

Richard Aikman explains the paranoia afflicting the Italian press and fans heading into the last set of Group C games, with memories of the Azzurri's UEFA EURO 2004 exit still raw.

The paranoia is deep among the Italian press. So much so that the Gazzetta dello Sport's front page leads with a graphic of a half-eaten biscuit and the headline 'Biscotto nightmare – Spain's message: trust us'.

Biscotto is the Italian word for biscuit, but it is a term used when two sides play out a result that is mutually beneficial. A high-scoring draw between Croatia and Spain (2-2 or greater) in their final Group C match will mean the teams progress at the Azzurri's expense – and the Italian journalists watching the squad train with me at the Municipal Stadium Krakow yesterday were all fearing the worst.

©AFP/Getty Images

Cesare Prandelli does not share the media's concern

"You only have to look at the history of the game," said one scribe from the above-mentioned pink daily. "It has happened plenty of times in the past," said another.

Later in the day Italy coach Cesare Prandelli moved to quell the scepticism by referring to any such notion as "impossible". Not because it hadn't happen in the past, but because Spain are so good and their footballing philosophy so pure that the idea of compromising their values would be anathema to them.

"I have trouble following these arguments," he said. "Spain would never contemplate such a thing. In the last few years they have broken new ground in terms of the way football should be played. They play entertaining, fascinating football and have become world and European champions by doing so.

"They don't think about the result. They only ever think about playing football the right way, which in turn gets results. They are the example that everyone is trying to follow. Any talk of them settling for a result is utterly inconceivable."

If Italians are concerned it is because they were eliminated from UEFA EURO 2004 in similar circumstances, when Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2 in their final group game to qualify on goals scored in head-to-head matches. However, any Azzurri fans still sceptical about the state of play should consider the following three arguments.

Firstly, four years ago Italy found themselves in a similar situation, but the Netherlands, despite having already qualified, overcame Romania 2-0. That enabled Roberto Donadoni's charges, who beat France by the same scoreline, to squeeze through to the quarter-finals.

Secondly, Spain have not yet qualified, and defeat for them on Monday – coupled with an Italy victory – would send them home early. They can ill afford to take their eye off the ball. Thirdly, such is his great integrity, the Spain coach is known in his homeland as Marquis Vicente del Bosque, and he summed up the lie of the land perfectly.

"There is no question of us being interested in a draw against Croatia in our last game," said Del Bosque after their 4-0 demolition of the Republic of Ireland. "We said before tonight that we had two games left and that we wanted to win both. That hasn't changed. In a tournament like this you can never let your guard down." That would really take the biscuit.

Last updated: 22/06/12 6.00CET

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