Italy ready to cast woes into the annals of history
Italy are ready to consign their turbulent Euro 2012 preparation to the history books on Sunday when they take on holders Spain in their Group C opener.
A match-fixing scandal back home and a 3-0 hammering by Russia in a friendly, their third defeat on the bounce, has seen the Azzurri arrive at these championships in disarray.
Even so, Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi, set to play as a libero against the Spaniards in a revamped formation, believes that although the fans may feel disengaged now, they will soon get behind the team and help them put their troubles to bed.
"That could be the case (that the fans feel distant) given what's happened over the last few months but all will be forgotten, not least because those playing (for Italy) have nothing to do with what has happened," he said.
"Just one month before we won the World Cup (in 2006) there was a similar atmosphere.
"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.
"But it's not a case of the whole footballing world being dirty as things seem, the national team is above that."
Spain and Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique believes that will only make the Italians stronger, as it has in the past.
Already in 2006 they won the World Cup directly following a match-fixing scandal and they did so too in 1982 just two years after yet another sordid affair.
"It seems Italy have been destabilised and have their heads elsewhere. But those are the circumstances in which they are at their strongest," insisted Pique.
"I am convinced that Italy will be a very complicated opponent to play against and that they will qualify for the quarters."
Spain are not without their own concerns as hot-shot David Villa misses the tournament as he recovers from a broken leg.
Villa - Spain's all-time record goalscorer - was Spain's main hero two years ago when they lifted the World Cup, but despite his absence Spain winger Pedro believes the title-holders will not want for goals.
"David Villa is a very important player due to the goals he scores, he's a very dangerous forward.
"But in the squad there are players just behind who are good finishers like (David) Silva, (Andres) Iniesta, (Juan) Mata or (Jesus) Navas.
"We'll have to make up for all the goals David scores amongst the rest of us to go as far as possible in the Euros."
Spain are not just missing Villa as centre-back Carles Puyol is also out of the tournament with injury.
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 in a very good moment and over the last four years they've won everything," said the Brazlian-born Paris St Germain player.
"They're missing players like Villa and Puyol but others can come in and play at the same level.
"We need to concentrate on ourselves because they haven't changed much in those four years.
"The important thing is that we do ourselves justice on the pitch and play with the desire we've shown from the beginning to win this game."
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.
That all changed when they finally landed the Euro title in Vienna four years ago.
Italy centre-back Giorgio Chiellini suggested it was Spain's penalty shoot-out victory over the Azzurri in the quarter-finals that gave them the self-belief to become a great team.
Four years on and world champions Spain are undoubtedly the best team on the planet and the clear favourites to prevail again.
However, last August Italy actually beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly in Bari, although the world champions largely dominated the match.
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