Italy seeks 3rd trophy amid scandals
By ANDREW DAMPF
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) They did it in 1982. They did it in 2006. Now, Italy has a chance to win its third major title amid a match-fixing or betting scandal.
Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, one of only four players left from the squad that won the 2006 World Cup, was asked before Sunday's Euro 2012 final against Spain how they do it.
"There's definitely something special, beyond all the talk that has been made out of it," Buffon said Saturday. "Italians have a sense of respect and love for their jersey that stretches beyond all our limits."
Patriotic fervor certainly plays a factor, as anyone who has watched Buffon belt out the words to Italy's national anthem with his eyes closed has surely noticed.
"That's true, I sing it with emotion - because Italy is my nation and where I was born. I lost two great grandparents at Piave," Buffon said, referring to a World War I battle, and visibly moved as he spoke during a press conference. "That's the least I can do for them."
At the 1982 World Cup, Paolo Rossi came back from a betting scandal ban to lead Italy to the title with a tournament-best six goals. Then at the 2006 World Cup, Buffon was the backbone of Italy's victorious team - while his Juventus squad was almost simultaneously being stripped of two Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B for applying pressure on referees.
A week before the squad departed for this tournament, police showed up at Italy's training camp to notify defender Domenico Criscito that he was under investigation for match-fixing. He was then dropped from the squad.
Another defender, Leonardo Bonucci, was also placed under investigation, but remained with the team, and has become a dependable starter.
Also, Buffon came under attack after it was revealed last month that he made large payments to the owner of a tobacco shop in Parma that is also a betting parlor. While he has not been charged with any wrongdoing, the revelations shook the Azzurri camp.
Still, Buffon has excelled again.
"Even if it's not easy sometimes, we're able to form a solid group," the goalkeeper said.
Italy President Giorgio Napolitano has invited the squad to a reception in Rome on Monday, win or lose. He also attended the Azzurri's opener in this tournament, a 1-1 draw with Spain.
"We really felt his presence and his support," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "He showed a lot of confidence in us - at a time when not a lot people had confidence in this squad."
Updated June 30, 2012