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Living on a wing and a prayer

Buffon says betting scandal being used to upset Italians, makes emotional plea to supporters ahead of Spain clash.

sports Updated: Jun 10, 2012 00:01 IST

Good news has a habit of following bad when it comes to Italy and major tournaments. Just do not tell the Italians that: on the eve of their European Championship opener against Spain, they cannot see the silver lining as the latest betting scandal that has engulfed Italian football threatens to eclipse their attempt to win the competition for the first time since 1968.

Gianluigi Buffon, who has been implicated in the investigations, has refused to talk to the media but made an emotional plea on Friday for fans to ignore the scandal and get behind the team in Poland this month. Clearly still angry, the goalkeeper asked fans not to be "fooled" by those whose only aim was to "stir up trouble." He said he wanted to see Italians proud of their national team again.

Buffon wrote: "I would trade two to three years of my life to get back to where we all dream about, where we all want to arrive, to see Italy celebrating again, to see people with pride in their national team.

"Your support and affection will be decisive and it would be the strongest signal against those who want to separate us and create divisions between us and you. Start thinking with your own head, people. Don't be fooled by those whose job it is to stir up trouble! We're ready to battle, with you by our sides."

Police have made 19 arrests, while the coach, Cesare Prandelli, said that if the national team had to leave the European Championship in order to clear the name of Italian football that would be "no problem". He has since distanced himself from remarks which were meant to be rhetorical but Domenico Criscito was withdrawn from the squad after he was questioned by police following a 6am raid on the training camp.

There have been reports of payments from Buffon, right, to the owner of a tobacco shop that doubled up as a bookmakers'. Unlike Criscito, however, he has not been formally put under investigation nor accused of illegal activity.

It has not gone without notice that Paolo Rossi returned from a betting scandal and a prison cell to become top scorer as Italy won the 1982 World Cup or that they won the 2006 World Cup in the aftermath of the Calciopoli revelations. But while others see that as a sign that they could be destined to win Euro 2012, the feeling within Italy is very different.

There is a widespread belief that Italy has a serious problem that is only beginning to come out into the open and which cannot be resolved by a successful summer. The scandal has caused problems within the squad, where the atmosphere is tense, and some have questioned the need to send Criscito home and not act in the same manner with the Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci who has also been mentioned in the match-fixing investigation. Criscito has also not been allowed the presumption of innocence that has been granted, for example, to England's John Terry. As for Prandelli, he has said he would rather concentrate on the football than be constantly asked about the scandal.

A number of Italian players believe that there has been an overreaction that has left them in the line of fire and served to create divisions.

First Published: Jun 10, 2012 00:00 IST