IF THE SCANDAL-ROCKED build-up to their 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph is anything to go by, Italy are poised to go all the way at Euro 2012.
Prior to the FIFA showcase event in Germany six years ago, Italian professional football was walloped by a scandal implicating the country’s biggest clubs in systematic match-fixing.
Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi was at the centre of the investigations, accused of orchestrating the appointment of referees and match officials who were instructed to favour his and other clubs.
The subsequent criminal proceedings saw then-champions Juve stripped of their last two titles and demoted to Serie B, while AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina were all docked points for the forthcoming season.
The shocking revelations served to unify the Italy squad, and they made it all the way to the final at the Berlin Olympic Stadium, beating France in a penalty shootout to lift their fourth World Cup.
Fast forward six years and history appears to be repeating itself.
After a season in which Juve won their first Scudetto since being demoted, Italian football is once again in the grip of a match-fixing scandal.
Zenit St Petersburg defender Domenico Criscito, formerly of Genoa, has pulled out of the national squad after police raided the Italy camp at dawn on Monday.
The anti-corruption officers searched Criscito’s room and informed him he was under observation as part of the same investigation which has seen Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and 11 other players arrested.
With another damaging scandal tainting their domestic game, a new generation of Italy internationals must prepare for the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
Italy failed miserably to progress from the group stage during their title defence at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
They impressed by finishing top of their qualifying group for Euro 2012, and expectations were rising for the team led by former Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli.
But their last two friendly outings ended in 1-0 defeats, to Uruguay and the United States respectively.
A match at home to Luxembourg on Tuesday appeared the perfect opportunity to record a morale-boosting victory, but the fixture was called off after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Emilia Romagna region.
The cancellation means Italy’s next outing will be on Friday against fellow Euro 2012 hopefuls Russia, who were drawn alongside the Czech Republic, Greece and co-hosts Poland in Group A.
Russia go into the match at the Letzigrund Stadion, Zurich, on the back of successive friendly draws against Lithuania and Uruguay.
Despite finding themselves in a winnable group, Russia’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat will be hard-pressed to better the achievements of predecessor and countryman Guus Hiddink, who guided the team to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 in some style.