Scandal-hit Italy turns to patriotism vs England
With surprisingly little fan support in stadiums at the European
Championship, Italy is taking motivation from a passionate message
sent to the squad by the country’s president.
His voice cracking with emotion, Giorgio Napolitano wished the
team well ahead of Sunday’s quarterfinal with England, saying
advancing from the group stage had provided a boost to the
Later, Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon opened a routine news
conference with a statement to explain how much the message means
to the squad, which has been affected by a match-fixing and betting
scandal back home.
”In a tough time for our country and for our profession, it
gives us a lot of strength,” said Buffon, who recently had his
banking records examined on suspicion he made large bets. ”Spoken
by someone of his stature, it doesn’t go unobserved. … We hope we
can repay him, and our nation, with the pride and joy that comes
with wearing this shirt.”
Napolitano attended Italy’s opening 1-1 draw with Spain, and
hugged Buffon after going down to the changing room after the
match. No Italian politicians will attend the match in Kiev to
protest the treatment of jailed Ukraine opposition leader Yulia
The presence of the 86-year-old Napolitano evoked memories of
former Italy President Sandro Pertini cheering the Azzurri on
during their title run at the 1982 World Cup, which came in the
wake of a similar betting scandal.
”We really created a special feeling of reciprocal respect,”
Buffon said Friday. ”He’s our top citizen and also our top
While never known for traveling en masse, Italian supporters
were greatly outnumbered at each of the team’s group games against
Spain, Croatia and Ireland. With Italy hit by hard economic times,
only 3,000 fans are expected in Kiev compared to more than 10,000
Special charter planes arranged to fly fans in have been
canceled due to low demand.
The week before Italy flew to Poland, reports surfaced over
large payments from Buffon to the owner of a tobacco shop in Parma
that is also a betting parlor. Buffon has not been placed under
investigation and is not accused of any wrongdoing, but the
revelations still shook the Azzurri camp.
Also, center back Leonardo Bonucci is under investigation for
match-fixing and fullback Domenico Criscito was a late cut from the
squad after he, too, was placed under investigation.
Buffon has been Italy’s starting goalkeeper for more than a
decade and, with 117 appearances, is the Azzurri’s most experienced
When Italy won the 2006 World Cup amid a similar match-fixing
scandal involving his Juventus club, Buffon was one of the standout
players – conceding only two goals in seven matches, with one of
them an own-goal and the other a penalty from France’s Zinedine
Zidane in the final.
”We nearly always have (a scandal),” Buffon said. ”So we’re
probably used to living with these difficulties.”