Italy focuses on Estonia amid latest scandal

Thursday 2 Jun 2011

Italy normally thrives amid scandals and the Azzurri are hoping that will again be the case for Friday's European Championship qualifier against Estonia

Italian team
Italian team (Photo: AP)

The qualifier game against Estonia comes three days after the latest match-fixing scandal to rock the national sport resulted in 16 arrests up and down the country, with numerous more under investigation for allegedly arranging games.

Italy won the 2006 World Cup at the height of the previous major match-fixing scandal, and the Azzurri won the 1982 title in the wake of a widespread betting scandal much like the one that surfaced this week.

"It was a rough wake up call, there's no use hiding it.

Who knows, maybe we'll be able to bounce back like after Calciopoli," said defender Giorgio Chiellini, who plays his club ball for Juventus, which was at the center of the last major scandal _ known as Calciopoli _ five years ago.

"It's tough to talk about football and the national team right now, but fortunately on Friday we have a match to play, and it's a very important match against Estonia that could seal qualification for the Euros," Chiellini added.

"This is the priority for me and my teammates." While Italy can't mathematically seal qualification, a win at Modena's Alberto Braglia stadium would keep the Azzurri on course toward winning the group.

Italy has a solid lead in Group C, with a five-point advantage over Slovenia and Serbia, with Estonia six points back.

Estonia's top scorer in qualifying, Konstantin Vassiljev, is suspended, and key midfielder Aleksandr Dmitrijev is injured.

Italy's only hiccup in its opening five qualifiers came in a 0-0 draw at Northern Ireland in October, while Estonia's only two wins were a 2-1 home victory over the Faeroe Islands and _ more impressively _ a 3-1 victory in Serbia in October.

Estonia also secured a 1-1 home draw against Serbia in its previous official match.

"The biggest risk could be the fact that we're at the end of the season," Chiellini said. "A lot of us have played more than 50 matches, so fatigue could be a real danger." Probably with that in mind, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli had his players undergo an extensive series of physical tests to determine which players are in the best shape.

Striker Mario Balotelli has been ruled out with a knee injury, and Thiago Motta, a Brazilian-born midfielder who has quickly become one of Prandelli's most dependable players, is out with a muscle problem.

Midfielder Daniele De Rossi, meanwhile, was left off the squad again for violating Prandelli's new conduct code, after he ended the Serie A season by serving a three-match ban for hitting an opponent.

United-States born forward Giuseppe Rossi and Inter Milan's Giampaolo Pazzini will likely lead the attack, with Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Alberto Aquilani probable selections in midfield.

Italy beat Estonia 2-1 in September with second-half goals from Antonio Cassano and Leonardo Bonucci, after Sergei Zenjov had put the hosts ahead. Both of Italy's goals came following corners, and the Azzurri will surely want to take advantage of their set piece opportunities again.

In all, Italy has scored 11 goals and allowed just one in its five qualifiers thus far.

"We started over from the ashes of the last World Cup and we have rebuilt a winning project," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, referring to Italy's embarrassing first-round exit in South Africa last year. "This squad is already ready to qualify for the Euros."

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