Italian soccer fans are disgusted with scandals, high ticket prices, dull games and violence in the stands.

They're staying home.

The European Cup of Nations, a quadrennial celebration of the sport that will end Sunday, is playing to sparse crowds.

No longer do capacity crowds cheer, wave banners and, after leaving the stadiums, celebrate into the night.

As European Cup '80 limped through its first week, fans, officials and experts were asking themselves where the excitement had gone.

In Rome last weekend, Czechoslovakia played Greece in front of 9,000 fans at the 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium. One Italian Soccer Federation official commented, "We never expected this. Never. It is worse than anyone could think."

It is billed as the world's most important soccer tournament next to the World Cup, but Italian fans are bored.

The four stadiums in which the cup is contested -- in Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin -- each holds 70,000 to 80,000 fans. Only one-third of the Turin stadium was filled for the England-Belgium match, marred by fighting in the stands. About 55,000 showed up for the Italy-Spain match in Milan.

"I don't know where all the people are," said Greek player George Kostikos. "I hear that the matches are too low-scoring, too boring, but they are tactical matches. One mistake and you're out of the competition. The fans must understand this."

Live television coverage of every game doesn't help sell tickets, either.

Tickets cost about 50 percent more than they do for the Italian League in regular season, and some tickets cost up to 33,000 lire ($39).

"The public will not pay more and more money to watch such boring games," said Charles Randall, who got a free ticket to the Czech-Greek game from his British company.

According to a spokesman from RAI, the Italian television network, about two of every three people watching television during an Italian match in the European Cup will be viewing the game. There are two national stations and scores of privately-owned stations.

Perhaps the strongest force holding down attendance is the aftermath of the Italian soccer scandal. Attendance at regular-season Italian games dipped a bit after the allegations that Italian players were taking bribes to fix matches, and fans in certain cities feel resentful because of the penalties to their teams.

Italian Coach Enzo Bearzot realizes the unpredictable nature of the Italian fan. For the past week, he has stressed to reporters the disadvantages -- rather than the obvious benefits -- of playing on home soil.

If the pope coached Italian soccer, he would not be immune to the harsh judgments of the Italian fan. Italians are fanatical but critical loyalists. In Milan Thursday night, fans applauded the Spanish team and berated their countrymen with taunts of "buffoni, buffoni" ("clowns, clowns") during the scoreless game.

"It is the nature of the Italian fan," Bearzot said. "We know there will be boos and whistles. Fans in Italy only deal with the philosophy of victory. They do not help us when we are playing poorly."

Bearzot pointed out another subtle twist of the Italian fan.

"In other parts of Europe, the team represents the nation. Here, the fans are club supporters (of the Italian League) and they are quite upset if the national team excluded their players."

Such is the case especially with the fans of Milan, who have suffered a double injustice in their eyes. One Milan club, Iter, won the Italian League crown but has only one player on the national squad. Another Milan club, A.C. Milan, has been relegated to the Italian second division for its alleged involvement in fixing matches.

"Relegation is considered a major blow to the pride of not only the club but also to the city and to the club's fans," explained Giuseppe Bardigotta, an Italian Soccer Federation official. "So for Milan's followers, relegation is a very serious matter."

The most disturbing element of soccer viewing is the occasional violence. Violence struck in the stands across Europe last season, and the European Soccer Federation (UEFA) handed out fines and penalties to clubs to discourage its fans from continuing.

But in Turin last week, hundreds of English spectators were ejected from the stadium for brawling. Italian riot police used tear gas. The English-Belgium match was halted five minutes as players sought relief from the gas.

British officialdom, including Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, British soccer spokesmen and London newspapers, deplored the conduct of their countrymen, and UEFA fined the English Soccer Federation 8,000 pounds ($18,000).

One Italian fan at the Greek-Czech game, Roberto Cerolli, said, "The English talk about their manner, their style. Yes, we cheer, we shout, we boo, we argue. We do not fight.What the English did, to me, is unacceptable. I pray for safety in future matches."

The success of the rest of the tournament, it is widely believed, rests on Italy's shoulder.

Cup organizers still hope for good crowds for the final matches, especially because many tickets were sold abroad to English or Germans who planned their summer vacations to Italy around the dates of cup matches.

But where are the Italian masses, the Milanese, Roman and Neapolitan mobs who seemingly revere the sight of a soccer ball as much as the altar of a church?

In the United States, fans -- even for big events -- are prodded into a frenzy by electric scoreboards, cheerleaders and lukewarm beers.

In European soccer, the game sells itself without artificial stimulants. When a goal is scored, nations rumble. Throngs of fans celebrate important victories deep into the night. Yet this year Italian soccer fans have relegated the European Cup to second-division attention.

Italians, it appeared, finally rediscovered the joys of the European Cup Sunday in Turin.

Ninety minutes before the Italy-England match, about 30 fans scuffled before police gained control.

At least one youth was ejected, and police formed a cordon dividing the 1,000 or so British fans from the Italians. No incidents occurred during the game.

Afterward, Italy savored its success with wild street celebrations -- flag-waving, running and shouting, car honking. In central Rome, police reported some looting and breaking of windows. Traffic was at a standstill for about an hour on the Via del Corso.