Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Italian soccer faced tumultuous year

AFP , ROME

Italy's Fabio Cannavaro controls the ball during the final of the soccer World Cup between Italy and France in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in July. Italy won the match. Cannavaro topped off a hectic but rewarding year for Italian soccer when he won FIFA's world player of the year award on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Italy's World Cup win this year was a truly remarkable achievement given the dramatic off-field distractions which had threatened to undermine the Azzurri's campaign.

Serie A was embroiled in its biggest ever match-fixing scandal and 13 members of the Italian squad played for the clubs involved, casting uncertainty about their futures.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi also came under the microscope after he was accused of bowing to pressure from former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, the central figure in the scandal, with whom he used to work with at the Turin club.

Transcripts of conversations between the two showed Moggi telling Lippi to omit certain Juventus players from international matches so that they could be fresher for league games.

Lippi, who never was forced to face formal charges, continued to deny any wrongdoing despite constant probing by the Italian media and snapped on several occasions at press conferences in Germany.

The Italians were also rocked by the apparent suicide attempt of former international Gianluca Pessotto, a friend to many on the national team.

Pessotto, who had been diagnosed with depression, threw himself out of his office window and suffered multiple fractures. At one stage his life was threatened, but he is now out of danger.

Italy began their World Cup adventure with a solid rather than spectacular 2-0 win over Ghana, before a bad-tempered 1-1 draw with the US.

An efficient 2-0 victory over injury-hit Czech Republic saw Italy through to the knockout stages as Group E winners.

Italy were kept at bay by a spirited Australia team in the second round, but deep into injury-time Fabio Grosso collided with Australian defender Lucas Neill in the area and the referee awarded a disputed penalty.

Francesco Totti, who had come on as a substitute in the 75th minute, kept his cool to slot home the crucial spot kick.

Italy had an easier time of it in the quarter-finals, sweeping aside Ukraine 3-0 in Hamburg where Gianluca Zambrotta broke the deadlock before Luca Toni's double wrapped up a straightforward win.

Germany stood between Italy and a place in the Berlin final, but the Azzurri held their nerve in a tense semi-final to break the hearts of the host nation.

An absorbing contest went into extra time and Lippi threw on two extra forwards -- Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta -- late in the game in a brave bid to win the match.

The pressure finally told on Germany, with Grosso scoring in the 119th minute with a curling shot and Del Piero added a second two minutes later for a 2-0 win.

Italy claimed the trophy for a fourth time by beating France 5-3 on penalties after the match had ended in a 1-1 draw.

France opened the scoring after Florent Malouda had been brought down by Marco Materazzi, and Zinedine Zidane scored with an chipped penalty which hit the bar before crossing the line.

Materazzi's bullet header from Andrea Pirlo's corner levelled the scores in the 19th minute. Zidane was sent off for headbutting Materazzi in the chest before the shootout drama.

Each one of Italy's five penalty takers scored, while David Trezeguet missed for France.

Grosso converted the decisive spot kick, sending Italian soccer fans into delirium.

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