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banner Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 11:27 GMT
Baggio's final World Cup fling
Roberto Baggio is still hoping to make the 2002 World Cup finals
Will Italy call on Baggio one last time?
BBC Sport's Stefano Bozzi looks at how injury could thwart Roberto Baggio's emotional last-ditch attempt to make the World Cup finals.

It seems that not everyone in Italy is desperate for Roberto Baggio to make his career swansong at the 2002 World Cup.

During the recent league game between Baggio's Brescia and Venezia, an as yet unnamed player is alleged to have told the Divine Ponytail: "I'll break your legs, you're not going to the World Cup."

Baggio is currently nursing a badly injured knee - not for the first time in his career - and is out of the game until Christmas after being carried off against Venezia.

The Italian football federation has opened an inquiry into the claims made by Baggio's agent.

Rollercoaster career

But Venezia club president Sergio Gasparin is standing firm: "The allegation was made ten days after the match. It seems a confused time frame and the substance is absolutely incredible."

But not as incredible as the immense ups and downs that Baggio has endured throughout his entire career.

He suffered cruciate knee trouble in his youth at Vicenza and then at Fiorentina.

Then he announced his talent to the globe with that fabulous individual goal at Italia 90.

A distraught Baggio after handing the 1994 World Cup to Brazil
Baggio after missing the penalty in the USA 94 final

Soon after, there were riots in Florence following his then world record transfer to Juventus.

At the USA 94 World Cup, he single-handedly hauled Italy to the final.

But after THAT penalty in the final against Brazil, he was dropped by the Azzurri and endured a spell of sitting on the bench at the San Siro with AC Milan.

Baggio sought to rebuild his reputation at mid-table Bologna, before another frustrating spell in Milan, this time with Inter.

Now at Brescia he is giving one last glorious go.

The media have campaigned for months for his emotional return to the national side in time for the World Cup.

The Baggio bandwagon

It would be his fourth, and last, appearance on the main stage. At 35, he is to retire this summer.

To his credit, the Baggio bandwagon is rolling with increasing momentum.

He is the joint top scorer in Serie A so far this season with eight goals, and is the sole inspiration in a Brescia side punching above its weight.

But he hasn't played for Italy since a similar late run of form won him a place in the squad for France 98.

In the last year national coach Giovanni Trapattoni has been put under huge pressure to recall Baggio, and let his anger boil over recently when fans sang Baggio's name as Inzaghi, Totti and Del Piero were misfiring against Hungary.

But despite his dismay at always being asked about him, Trapattoni has named Baggio in a group of 35 players that he is considering for his Korea and Japan 22.

After another lukewarm performance in the 1-1 draw with Japan on Tuesday, the Azzurri may need their talisman one last time.

It wouldn't be the World Cup for Italians without him.

See also:

06 Nov 01 |  Europe
Baggio out for two months
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