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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Liverani's race against time
Lazio's Fabio Liverani (28) after scoring the winner against Juventus in November
Liverani (28) after scoring the winner against Juventus
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Fabio Liverani is an outside possibility to be named in Giovanni Trapattoni's squad for Japan and Korea after an inconsistent season with Lazio.

But it would be foolish to write off this remarkable 27-year-old midfielder.

He has come much too far to give up on a World Cup place without a struggle.

Open Quote
I just hope people will not think of me as the first black player in the Italian team, but as an important player
Close Quote
Fabio Liverani

Indeed, while for any player to be named in a finals squad is a very special honour, Liverani is motivated by the knowledge that his own selection for Italy would carry a far wider significance.

On 25 April, 2001, the playmaker of Somalian descent made history when he became the first black Italian to play for his country, in a friendly against South Africa.

Now he is desperate to go one step further by becoming the first black player to be included in an Italian World Cup squad.

Selection would certainly cap a remarkable journey for Liverani.

Not only did he make his ground-breaking Italy debut just months after signing for Perugia from Serie C side Viterbese, but he has had to fight prejudice every step of the way.

Mercilessly taunted as a kid, he has had to suffer the vilest abuse imaginable from the terraces.

Yet his talent has been his greatest weapon in the fight for acceptance.

Fabio Liverani
Liverani was proud to wear the famous blue of Italy

Liverani's deft touches, pin-point passing and tactical awareness had him earmarked for a spot in coach Trapattoni's World Cup squad last summer.

His performance on his Italy debut in place of an injured Francesco Totti suggested a seat on the plane for Japan and Korea was his for the taking.

Instead, after a difficult first season at his new club Lazio, Liverani is desperate to impress ahead of the 21 May deadline for World Cup squad confirmation.

"I have to admit that I cried when I got called up for the first time by Giovanni Trapattoni," Liverani told BBC Sport Online.

"I just hope people will not think of me as the first black player in the Italian team, but as an important player."

While the colour of his skin has clearly not been an obstacle to success, Liverani has been forced to overcome racist abuse in Serie A's grounds during his battle to reach the top.

Open Quote
I used to return home crying when I was a kid and still there are people shouting at me - I simply ignore them and play my best
Close Quote
Fabio Liverani

Last season, while at Perugia in an away match at Reggina, he met the worst face of Italian football.

"A lot of people were insulting me," he said. "I remember all the time how I used to return home crying when I was a kid.

"Then I entered the adult world and still there were people shouting at me. I simply ignore them and play my best.

"That day wasn't the first time it happened and it probably won't be the last."

Liverani's success at Perugia led to a move to Lazio in September last year and he again showed his strength of character by silencing a notoriously racist element of the Biancoceleste support.

Striking the only goal of the game in November against Juventus also helped.

But, with Lazio lurching from crisis to crisis this season, Liverani's place in the side is no longer guaranteed.

Now he faces a battle to force his way back into coach Trapattoni's plans.

Given the obstacles he has already overcome in his rise to the top, one final hurdle may not yet be beyond him.

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