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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 July 2006, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
Triumph from despair
By Simon Austin

It was the most tumultuous week in the history of Italian football.

On Tuesday morning last week, prosecutor Stefano Palazzi recommended that four of the country's most famous clubs - Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina and AC Milan - be relegated from Serie A for their alleged part in a match-fixing scandal.

Italian fans celebrating in Milan
Italian fans celebrate in Milan after victory over Germany on Tuesday
It was a grim time. The contrast with Sunday evening in Rome after Italy's dramatic penalty shoot-out to win the World Cup triumph could not possibly have been starker.

But 13 members of the deliriously-happy Italian squad are drawn from the four clubs implicated in the match-fixing scandal and they face the ultimate dichotomy.

On Sunday they celebrate winning Italy's first World Cup in 24 years; next Friday, they might be looking for new employers following the demotion of their clubs.

Yet Italy coach Marcello Lippi has managed to use the match-fixing scandal to forge an amazing togetherness and team spirit in the Italy squad.

Speaking recently on BBC One's World Cup Stories series, former Italy striker Paolo Rossi said: "When a team is attacked, it makes them perform miracles."

He was talking about the 1982 World Cup, which Italy won despite arriving in Spain on the back of another match-fixing controversy, but his words sum up what has happened to the team in Germany.

Rossi, who was the competition's top scorer, had been banned for two years for his part in a fixed match and only returned shortly before the finals.

In 1982, as now, Italy started the World Cup in unimpressive form, but improved greatly as the tournament went on, before sweeping past Germany in the final.

ITALIAN NEWSPAPER HEADLINES ON WEDNESDAY
"We love you"
Corriere dello Sport
"Fly high Italy, fly high"
Gazetta dello Sport
"Historic Italy - we are in the final"
La Repubblica
"Italy could beat anyone - even the Martians"
Il Messaggero
Italy's progress this time round seems to have reignited the country's love affair with football.

The stench of corruption seemed to pervade the camp in the run-up to the competition and during the group stages.

Questions about the match-fixing scandal dominated the Azzurri's early news conferences in Germany.

Luca Valdiserri, a football writer for Corriere della Sera, says there was no World Cup fever back home in Italy during this time.

"In the last two months football has reached the lowest point in its history, due to the match-fixing scandal," he says.

"A lot of people are not loving football as much as before, and I have heard many say they will never go to a stadium again, never even watch football on television again."

But, gradually, Italy's World Cup successes have taken precedence over corruption.

After Tuesday's semi-final win over Germany, Cesare Ruperto, the lead judge in the investigation into "match fixing and disloyalty", said: "I think we've all lived through a night of joy".

After the semi-final, thousands of cars and mopeds streamed onto the streets of Rome after goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero secured Italy's passage to the final.

Supporters clutching white, red and green flags gathered around the city's landmarks.

Marcello Lippi
Lippi has forged a fantastic team spirit among the squad
The following morning, Corriere dello Sport carried a front-page picture of the team and the headline "We love you".

And that was just the precursor to a an unforgettable party on Sunday.

Amid the sore heads, there is likely to be a reality check on 14 July, when the country's biggest ever sports tribunal reaches a verdict on the match-fixing inquiry.

Andrea Ramasotti, a football writer for Corriero Dello Sport, predicts that Juve will be relegated to Serie B and handed a big points deduction.

He thinks AC Milan will stay in Serie A but be given a deduction, and Fiorentina and Lazio will be demoted to Serie B.

That could make the World Cup win seem a distant memory.



SEE ALSO
Italy win World Cup on penalties
09 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Italian football's tangled web
18 May 06 |  Europe
Italian FA under emergency rule
16 May 06 |  Europe
Italy team guide
22 May 06 |  Italy
Pick your Italy XI
18 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage


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