Cannavaro setback nothing new for Italy

A ball hasn't even been kicked, but already Italy's Euro 2008 campaign appears to be in shambles.
An ankle injury will prevent Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro from playing at Euro 2008. ((Joe Klamar/Getty Images))

A ball hasn't even been kicked, but already Italy's Euro 2008 campaign appears to be in shambles.

The Italians arrived in Austria on Monday for their first training session. Not six hours after stepping off the plane, Fabio Cannavaro crashed to the ground after colliding with teammate Giorgio Chiellini during a team practice. The veteran defender writhed in pain as he lay prone on the ground for 20 minutes before being stretched off the field and taken to a local hospital. 

Later in the day, it was confirmed that Cannavaro tore ligaments in his left ankle and that he would be sidelined for the next two months.

Unable able to rely on the services of their captain, who just happens to be among the best central defenders in the world, the Italians' Euro campaign looks to have ended before it even really started.

But critics should not write off Italy just yet because the Cannavaro crisis is nothing new for the Azzurri.

Cast your minds back two years ago, when the Italian national team was enveloped in controversy at the World Cup in Germany. While the tournament was going on, an Italian sports tribunal in Rome was investigating allegations of a match-fixing scheme in Serie A (Italy's first division) for the previous two seasons and was expected to hand down a decision after the World Cup.

The pall of the match-fixing scandal had been hanging over Italy in the buildup to the World Cup, with four of the most storied Italian clubs — Juventus, Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan — facing relegation to Italy's lower leagues. Many of the Italians players' pro careers were teetering in the balance.

At the same time, Gianluca Pessotto, a former national team member, was on his deathbed in an Italian hospital. Pessotto jumped (some say he fell) from the roof of the Juventus headquarters in Turin with a rosary clutched in one hand, leading many to believe that his fall from the roof was a suicide attempt.

But neither the scandal nor the thought of a former colleague desperately fighting for his life could distract the Azzurri from winning its fourth World Cup.

"If the scandal hadn't happened, I think we wouldn't have won the World Cup," AC midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said after Italy defeated France in he final.

Fabio Cannavaro holds the World Cup trophy following his team's victory in a penalty shootout at the end of the 2006 World Cup. ((Shaun Botterill/Getty Images))

Italy's previous World Cup victory, in 1982 in Spain, was also won with the team dogged by controversy.

In 1979, while playing for Perugia in Serie A, Paolo Rossi received a three-year ban after being implicated in a betting scandal that rocked Italian soccer (Rossi to this day denies any involvement).

The ban was later reduced to two years and his suspension ended just months before the start of the World Cup. His inclusion in the squad was derided by Italian journalists and fans, pointing out that the forward was out of shape. Others questioned whether or not it was proper for Italy to select a player who was accused of fixing matches.

But Italian manager Enzo Bearzot stood firm and he was duly rewarded when Rossi scored a hat trick in Italy's memorable 3-2 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals. Rossi went on to score three more goals, including one in the final, to help Italy win the World Cup for the first time since 1938.

There's no question that the loss of Cannavaro is a crushing blow to the Azzurri. The Real Madrid star was a key member of the Italian team that won the 2006 World Cup, and as a result of his outstanding play in that tournament, the Italian defender went on to win the FIFA world player of the year award.

He also won the Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) as the European player of the year, becoming just the third defender to be so honoured.

But even without Cannavaro, Italy still has plenty of quality defenders it can call upon: Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Grosso, Christian Panucci, Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini.