Scandals strengthen Italian soccer team

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

There's bad news for the rest of the world. Italy may be headed for another wave of soccer scandals breaking just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Scandal, recriminations, media pressure and constant hounding are just the kind of preparations Italy seems to thrive on to win a World Cup.

In May 2006, a month before the World Cup in Germany, the Calciopoli scandal broke wide open. Teams were accused of attempting to influence the scheduling of referees to Serie A games. Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio were all punished eventually.

Juventus had the Serie A championship taken away and it was given to Inter. Juventus was also relegated to Serie B.

Marcello Lippi, Italy's manager, had to face questions about his son's involvement. Players were confronted on a daily basis.

The Italians then won the World Cup.

In 1982, Italy was not considered a favourite to win the World Cup in Spain. They'd gone through a rough four years in preparation. Italian soccer was beset by a betting scandal.

At the centre of the scandal was Paolo Rossi. He was convicted of taking a bribe to fix matches. Rossi played with Perugina, who drew 2-2 with Avellino with Rossi scoring both goals. The match fixing involved a huge syndicate. Many were arrested. Rossi claimed innocence, but in 1980 received a three-year ban. It was reduced to two, allowing Rossi to play in the 1982 World Cup.

He scored six goals in that tournament, including three against Brazil, eliminating them.

Italy won the World Cup.

Now the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 appears to be back in play. More than 170,000 telephone calls were taped. Some were used to convict Juventus and its director Luciano Moggi. During Moggi's trial, his legal team may use these wiretaps in his defence.

The other clubs involved in making these calls to referees reportedly include Roma, Inter and Palermo.

How it plays out remains to be seen but it will be yet another addition to the list of reasons to write off Italy.

Italy is too old. Italy hasn't found a consistent goal-scoring threat. Italy's once rock-solid defence has developed cracks.

The Italians will go into the World Cup somewhere in a second tier of favourites. The favourite flavours of the week are Spain, Brazil and Germany.

Somewhere behind that group are Argentina, the Netherlands and Italy.

Italy has shown little in the last year that would make anyone believe their on the brink of another World Cup. Many had written them off initially because of all the on-field reasons.

Now when you add the potential of another scandal exploding at World Cup time, there's all the more reason to believe this might not be the best of times.

We do offer a word of caution here. The Italians are survivors.

They've had some outstanding World Cups with mediocre teams. Italy often struggles during the early part of tournaments but if they manage to survive, they becomes dangerous.

Italy is one team that's able to block out distractions. In fact, the more everyone else focuses on distractions, the more the Italians are able to ignore them.

When Italy heads to South Africa it will be with a team under scrutiny. It will be a team with more questions than answers.

But it will also be a team with history on its side . . . a history of being able to ignore everything while they figure out how to win.

Morris Dalla Costa is a Free Press sports columnist.

E-mail morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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