Crisis-laden Italy has long list of problems

Crisis-laden Italy has long list of problems

Published Jun. 5, 2012 4:24 p.m. ET

From scandal to injuries to poor preparation, Italy is a team in crisis as it awaits the European Championship.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has had his banking records examined on suspicion he made large bets. Leonardo Bonucci reportedly is under investigation for match-fixing. Fellow center back Andrea Barzagli may miss the tournament with a calf injury and standout striker Mario Balotelli is also hurting.

The betting and match-fixing scandal has created a climate close to the one before Italy won the 1982 and 2006 World Cups after similar problems. But Italy coach Cesare Prandelli wasn't interested in comparisons.

''I don't like this game,'' Prandelli said. ''We would have liked to come here with a different mood, but we've got great spirit and we won't be discouraged.''


Beyond all that, the Azzurri have lost their last three friendlies by a combined score of 5-0.

With fresh memories of its first-round elimination from the 2010 World Cup, Italy has only five days to restore order ahead of its opener against defending champion Spain.

Italy was eliminated from Euro 2008 by Spain on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.

''(Spain) plays great football but we shouldn't be afraid of anyone,'' Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said. ''We've got to work hard in this final week, but we're not worried.''

Also in Group C, Italy will face eighth-ranked Croatia and Ireland, which is coached by Giovanni Trapattoni.

Reports surfaced last week over large payments from Buffon to the owner of a tobacco shop 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.

As for Bonucci, his inclusion on the squad has been in the spotlight since another defender, Domenico Criscito, was cut from the team after police showed up at the training complex last week notify him that he was under investigation for match-fixing.

However, the Italian soccer federation insists Bonucci's case is different, and that he is not under investigation, despite news reports that say otherwise.

Marchisio teamed with Buffon and Bonucci to help Juventus win the Serie A title last season.

''Bonucci and Buffon are the first people to give us serenity,'' Marchisio said. ''They've always trained with tranquility.''

Another Juventus player, Barzagli, strained his left calf in a 3-0 friendly loss to Russia on Friday and could be sidelined for 20 days. He's one of four holdovers from the squad that won the 2006 World Cup, along with Buffon and midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi.

''We're going to try and hold onto (Barzagli) up until last minute if we can,'' Prandelli said. ''We realize it won't be easy, but he's a key player.''

Meanwhile, Balotelli is still recuperating from a right thigh muscle problem and worked out only mildly in the squad's final training session Tuesday before flying to Poland.

However, Prandelli said Balotelli ''absolutely'' has a chance of playing the opener.

While Italy has won four World Cup titles, the team has won the European Championship only once, in 1968. If recent performances are any indication, the Azzurri don't look poised to end their 44-year winless streak.

The Azzurri's other pre-tournament friendly against Luxembourg, slated for Parma last week, was canceled to due to an earthquake in central Italy.

Italy lost its two previous friendlies at home, first falling 1-0 to Uruguay in November, then getting beaten 1-0 by the United States in February.

The Azzurri's last victory came in Poland, a 2-0 win over the tournament co-hosts in November that featured Balotelli's first goal for the national team and another strike from Giampaolo Pazzini, who is now off the squad.

Based in Krakow, Italy will pay tribute to Holocaust victims by visiting the Auschwitz death camp Wednesday.

''I'm convinced it should be mandatory to go, for many reasons,'' Prandelli said. ''First to not forget what happened, secondly to bear witness and make the new generations understand how little it takes at times to create a human disaster.''