Italy V Republic of Ireland : UEFA Euro 2012 Match Preview
Biscuit threatens to sidetrack Italy's Ireland prep
Italy's preparation for their final European Championship Group C clash against Ireland on Monday is at risk of being derailed by a biscuit, which is how the Italians refer to a potential arrangement between their rivals.
The 2006 world champions sit third in their group after 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia.
They trail both of those by two points with pointless Ireland already eliminated.
Italy's preparations should be firmly concentrated on getting the victory over Ireland that should prove sufficient to send them into the quarter-finals.
However talk of a "biscotto", or biscuit in English, has got Italian nerves jangling and conspiracy theorists clamouring foul play before even a ball has been kicked.
Should Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 in Gdansk then they will both qualify for the quarter-finals at Italy's expense, regardless of their result against Ireland.
Despite coach Cesare Prandelli's claims they have nothing to worry about, there can be no doubt that it is in the players' minds.
"We must believe right to the end and not cultivate the policy of suspicion," said Prandelli.
"We need to win the game (against Ireland) and deserve to progress to the next round.
"I think Spain will beat Croatia, for the last 10 years they've had a certain image and I don't think they're going to start speculating now.
"We must not think about what happened eight years ago, we must not look for excuses.
"Spain have always produced a spectacle and played well, everyone wants to emulate them, why would they think about a biscuit now?"
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has vowed to play to win the game against Croatia but the question remains how they will approach matters if they are drawing with time running out.
Any kind of score draw would almost guarantee they win the group -- unless it's 1-1 and Italy beat Ireland by more than four goals.
Del Bosque may want to win the game but would he risk losing it when his side are guaranteed to progress with any kind of draw?
The bigger issue for Italy will be the potential banana skin that is former coach Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland.
Trapattoni was the Italy coach in Portugal eight years ago and there would be a sort of poetic injustice perhaps were he to be the architect of Italy's downfall this time around.
The problem for Trapattoni is that Ireland are out and the veteran coach wants to start building for the future.
But he is accutely aware that should he pick a youthful team, as he wishes to, he could be accused of giving his homeland a helping hand.
And the 73-year-old doesn't want to take the biscuit.
"I can start some of the players of the future against Italy; I have changes in mind, but I can't make three, four or five changes as I might be accused of favouring Italy," he said.
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