ROME – The Italian national team has been ordered to take part in Euro 2012 by government officials despite a deep-rooted match-fixing scandal that had parliamentarians considering advising the squad to withdraw.
The issue is shaping up as the most serious case of match fixing in soccer history. Police in Italy have made 19 arrests in the last week as part of a long investigation aimed at rooting out corruption in the sport, and several high-profile figures have been drawn into the saga.
Lazio captain Stefano Mauri was among those arrested, national team member Domenico Criscito was dumped from the Euros squad after being quizzed by police and superstar goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was forced to defend himself publicly against allegations he was implicated.
The depth of the crisis is so severe that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti seriously considered telling the team not to travel to Poland and Ukraine for the event, which pits Europe's best 16 nations against each other and is considered the second most important international tournament in the world. Play begins Friday.
"I'm not making a proposal and even less is it a proposal that comes from the government, but it is a desire I sometimes feel inside me – that it would really benefit … Italian citizens if the game was suspended completely for two to three years," Monti said.
The Italian government has its own issues to deal with thanks to the ongoing financial disaster involving countries within the European Union and is loath to get involved with soccer matters. However, Monti did hold talks with senior members of his government to discuss whether Italy's withdrawal from the Euros could be a legitimate solution.
Even head coach Cesare Prandelli was braced for such an outcome. "If you told us that for the good of football we should not participate, it wouldn't be a problem for me," Prandelli told RAIsport.
However, Italian Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri issued what is expected to be the government's final word on the issue of the Euros on Sunday, giving the all-clear for the side's participation.
"The European Championship is a major international tournament," she said. "Play, and play well for Italy."
Italy will take on defending European and reigning world champion Spain in the Polish city of Gdansk on Sunday in its opening match in Group C, a pool that also features Ireland and Croatia.
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The last time Italian soccer was rocked by nefarious activities was in the summer of 2006 with the Calciopoli scandal that saw several top club teams sanctioned for influencing referees. Not only did Italy go on to compete in that summer's World Cup, but the Azzurri won the whole thing thanks to a dramatic penalty shootout victory over France in the final.
This week, European governing body UEFA took the threat of an Italian withdrawal seriously enough that talks were held among its executive committee. The last time a team pulled out was in 1992 when the former state of Yugoslavia broke up politically and was replaced at the last minute by shock eventual champion Denmark.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the highest ranked of the four teams that lost in last year's qualification playoffs, would have been offered the opportunity to come in as a late replacement, a source told Yahoo! Sports.
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