Scandal Inspires Italy to Win World Cup

By Andrew Dampf
Associated  Press
Sunday, July 9, 2006; 8:08 PM

BERLIN -- Scandal and World Cup victory. For Italy, they are becoming old acquaintances.

In the Italians' case, maybe it's better that officials from top soccer clubs are accused of fixing matches.

"If the scandal hadn't happened I think we wouldn't have won the World Cup," said Gennaro Gattuso, the midfield workhorse of Italy's national team. "It has given us more strength."

Against the backdrop of its biggest soccer scandal in history, Italy won a fourth World Cup on Sunday, beating France 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.

The last time the country won the World Cup, in 1982, a betting scandal preceded the tournament.

This year, allegations of corruption and favoritism have piled up against Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio -- the four Serie A that 13 members of Italy's 23-man squad call home. A sports tribunal in Rome is looking into the accusations, and could render its verdict as early as Monday.

Prosecutors are seeking to demote Juventus -- the "Old Lady" of Italian soccer -- into Serie C, the lowest division of Italy's club soccer league, as well as strip it of league titles from the past two seasons. They also want Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio relegated to Serie B.

Grief also played a part for the Italian team when the news came that Gianluca Pessotto, a former player appointed as team manager in the wake of the scandal, had fallen from a window at the team's headquarters in Turin. Pessotto is still fighting for his life at a hospital, and the circumstances of his fall remain unclear.

"I've tried to calm my teammates in difficult moments," captain Fabio Cannavaro said, "and there have been many in these seven matches."

Gianluigi Buffon had to defend himself against allegations of illegal betting before the World Cup. In May, there were calls for Cannavaro to hand in his captain's armband after allegations emerged that he purposely played poorly to hasten his transfer from Inter Milan to Juventus two years ago. Cannavaro vehemently denied such behavior.

Italy persevered through the worst of it: The day prosecutors requested relegation for the top teams, Italy beat host Germany 2-0 in the semifinals. News of Pessotto's fall came a day after Italy beat Australia 1-0 on a final-play penalty in the second round.

"This squad showed great heart," Gattuso said. "Maybe it wasn't pretty, but we were hard to beat. We played each game one at a time and with great humility."

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