Italy are ready to consign their turbulent Euro 2012 preparation to the history books when they take on holders Spain in their Group C opener today.
A match-fixing scandal and a 3-0 hammering by Russia in a friendly has seen the Azzurri arrive at these championships in disarray. But midfielder Daniele De Rossi believes the fans will soon get behind Italy and help them put their troubles to bed.
“The fans could feel distant given what’s happened over the last few months but all will be forgotten, because those playing have nothing to do with what has happened,” said the midfielder.
Italy will progress, says Pique
Meanwhile, Spain defender Gerard Pique insisted that Italians perform best when in trouble. In 1982 and 2006, they won the World Cups directly following match-fixing scandals.
“It seems Italy have been destabilised and have their heads elsewhere but those are the circumstances in which they are at their strongest,” said Pique. “I am convinced that Italy will qualify for the quarters.”
Spain are not without their own concerns as hot-shots David Villa and Carles Puyol miss the tournament with injuries. But Italy midfielder Thiago Motta says those who will come in to replace them are just as good.”They won’t be weaker, they’re missing players like Villa and Puyol but others can come in and play at the same level,” said the Paris St Germain player.
Spain not under-achievers anymore
Four years ago Spain were still the ‘nearly’ men, the great under-achievers who despite generation after generation of great players, never managed to win anything.
All that changed when they finally landed the Euro title in Vienna four years ago and then added the World Cup trophy two years later. Four years on and world champions Spain are undoubtedly the best team on the planet and the clear favourites to prevail again.
Croatia tackle Ireland in other group match
In the other Group C match, Republic of Ireland will take on Luka Modric’s Croatia in the late kick-off tonight.
Croatia’s star midfielder Luka Modric reckons that the result against the Republic of Ireland will set the tone for his side’s campaign as they try to make an impression. “It’s our most important match in the group,” said Modric. “If we win it, then I believe we will reach the knockout phase.
Ireland boss Giovanni Trappatoni also believed that the first match is of upmost importance.”The first 90 minutes will have an impact on the tournament and it’s very important to win the first match,” said the old-guard.
The match pits Trappatoni against Slaven Bilic, who would like nothing better than to lift the trophy before he moves into club management with Lokomotiv Moscow.
“I feel like a 20-year-old, only with more experience,” said Trapattoni. “I’m still hungry for success, I watch every football match and always think of ways in which I could improve.”
Daniel De Rossi
“It is a little annoying because now next to the page about the national team you read about a sporting trial and we can’t wait for it to be over.”
“It seems Italy have been destabilised and have their heads elsewhere but those are the circumstances in which they are at their strongest.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.