From match-fixing to injuries and poor preparation, crisis-laden Italy were carrying a long list of problems to their training base on Tuesday.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has had his banking records examined on suspicion he made large bets, Leonardo Bonucci is reportedly under investigation for match-fixing, fellow centerback Andrea Barzagli may miss the tournament with a calf injury, while 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, but Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was not 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 their group-stage elimination from the 2010 World Cup, Italy have only a few days to restore order ahead of their opener against Spain on Sunday. They was eliminated from Euro 2008 by Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.
“[Spain] play 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.”
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 camp.
As for Bonucci, his inclusion on the squad has been in the spotlight since another defender, Domenico Criscito, was cut after police showed up at the Coverciano training complex last week to hand him a notification that he was under investigation for match-fixing.
However, the Italian soccer federation insists that Bonucci’s case is different and that he is not under investigation.
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 last week and he could be sidelined for 20 days. He is one of only 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 thigh-muscle problem and he worked out only mildly in the squad’s final training session on Tuesday before flying to Poland.
However, Prandelli said Balotelli “absolutely” has a chance of playing the opener.
While Italy have won four World Cup titles, the team has won the European Championship only once, back in 1968. If recent performances are any indication, the Azzurri do not look poised to end their 44-year winless streak.
Against Russia, all Italy could produce were a few chances from Balotelli and Prandelli has already indicated he will likely switch from a traditional four-man defense to a three-man backline against Spain, possibly featuring AS Roma midfielder De Rossi at centerback.