Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - Page 18 News List

EURO 2012: Italy aim to snap second-game hex

Reuters, KRAKOW, POLAND

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, right, makes a save against teammate Mario Balotelli in a training session in Gdansk, Poland, on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

Italy forward Antonio Cassano apologized on Tuesday for saying he hoped there were no homosexuals in the national team.

Asked at a Euro 2012 press conference earlier in the day about media reports that there were two “secret” gays in the Italy squad, he said: “That’s their problem. I hope there isn’t one in the national team.”

After criticism from gay groups, Cassano issued an apology through Italian state news agency ANSA.

“I am sincerely sorry that my comments have caused controversy and protests among gay groups. Homophobia is not a point of view that I share. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I absolutely don’t want to put a person’s sexual freedom under discussion,” the statement said. “I only said that it was a problem which was nothing to do with me and I don’t let myself express judgements on other people’s choices, which should all be respected.”

The often outspoken Cassano also caused a stir by hinting he might leave AC Milan.

Milan are in talks about possibly selling Thiago Silva to mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Cassano said his side may struggle to compete at the very top if they cash in on the Brazilian.

“To lose Thiago is hard, hard. It is impossible to replace him. Without Thiago, it is 50 percent of our team. It’s a crime to lose Thiago,” the 29-year-old told the press conference. “At the end of the Euros, I will see if I remain at Milan or I leave. I don’t know.”

He indicated he might have to consider a move if Milan bought Manchester City forward and Italy teammate Mario Balotelli, and said his happiest times were at Sampdoria, where he was kicked out in 2010 for verbally abusing the club’s president.

Cassano also brought his inimitable brand of humor to Euro 2012, saying he was “born tired” and did not like scoring goals.

At times he had reporters and the translator in hysterics during the press conference most pundits thought would never be allowed to happen by the Italian federation, given his penchant for outrageous remarks and bizarre quips.

Asked about catching Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas late during their Group C opener on Sunday, the 29-year-old said: “I was born tired and I have to rest.”

Strike partner Balotelli wasted a great opportunity against the holders when he dallied too long on the ball and Cassano had advice for his teammate.

“I thought ‘give me the ball.’ Mario told me he wanted to give me the ball and he didn’t know Sergio Ramos was there,” he said. “If it had been me, I would have given him the ball, I don’t like scoring.”

After another question about his fellow forward, he barbed: “Are we only talking about Balotelli today?”

Then he became laughably exasperated when asked if he preferred playing with the Manchester City man or Antonio Di Natale.

“Do you think I would tell you? It’s the same. The important thing is that I am there,” he said.

There was a serious side to Cassano, though.

He resumed playing last month after undergoing minor heart surgery in November last year after falling ill on a plane back from a match against AS Roma, sidelining him just as he had hit one of the best spells of his career.

His congenital illness affected his brain and there were fears he would never play again.

“I’ll tell you the truth, before this match [against Spain] a lot of times I thought I don’t know why I am here,” he said, acknowledging he still cannot play a full 90 minutes. “I was ill, I didn’t know if I could play again. I want to be a challenger at the Euros, I’m not here to waste time. I don’t wish the problem I had on anyone. Luckily, I am here, I have been blessed.”

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