Conspiracy theories give Italy new nightmares

Given their league is mired in another match-fixing scandal, Italians assume others indulge in underhand tactics and the fear that Spain and Croatia will contrive a 2-2 draw to knock the Azzurri out of Euro 2012 is growing apace.

Not among the players and coach Cesare Prandelli, it must be added, but in a media obsessed with football conspiracy theories which they bizarrely call "biscuits".

A win over eliminated whipping boys Ireland and their Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni in the final Group C game on Monday would be enough for Italy to make the quarter-finals in second place if Spain or Croatia win the other match.

However, a draw makes the situation complicated because all three teams would be level on five points and head to head record is the deciding factor, with Italy having drawn 1-1 with both.

All three would have the same points in the mini-league and a zero goal difference so goals scored becomes all important.

A 0-0 stalemate between Spain and Croatia means Italy are through with a win against the Irish while a 1-1 draw brings goal difference in the entire group into the equation.

A 2-2 or higher scoring draw between Spain and Croatia, though, and Italy can do absolutely nothing as on the head to heads the other two will have scored more goals.

EVERY PLAYER

Almost every player was asked by reporters about the chances of a fix after Thursday's draw with Croatia, even before Spain had even beaten Ireland to set up the possibility, which both teams deny could ever happen.

"I don't fear the biscuit," goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said.

Thiago Motta added: "They are professionals. It won't happen, everyone will do their own jobs."

Italy's paranoia over conspiracy theories stems from the 2002 World Cup when, ironically bossed by Trapattoni, they were eliminated in the second round after a defeat by co-hosts South Korea.

The Azzurri were certain that the referee favoured the hosts as part of a FIFA campaign to get the home side through, all denied by the authorities.

At Euro 2004 Trapattoni's Italy went out in the group stage in exactly the same sort of scenario they fear now, when a 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden prompted their exit.

Again there were protests about match-fixing but UEFA said everything was above board.

Italy won the World Cup in 1982 and 2006 after betting and match-fixing affairs at home had tainted the build-up and this time left-back Domenico Criscito was left out of the squad after police said he was being investigated over fix allegations.

He denies wrongdoing in what is becoming a wide-ranging probe that has also led to the arrest of former Italy midifleder Stefano Mauri.

Wherever Italy turn, the murky world of cheating is consuming them.

Prandelli is calmness personified and is too shrewd to let it get entrenched in his players' minds but they cannot help wonder - they are Italian.


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