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How Can the European Cup Save Italian Soccer?
by Francesca Di Meglio
MAY 16, 2004 -- Disillusioned Italian soccer fans are anticipating - and hoping for a victory - at the upcoming European Cup in Portugal. After an awesomely poor performance on the part of players and referees at the 2002 World Cup and a season plagued by fan violence and now a match-fixing scandal, bringing home the championship is more than a wish. It's a necessity. Here's why:
- A win at the Euro Cup will help the world forget about the gambling scandal - even if for but a moment. Last week, news broke that the anti-mafia police were investigating 12 Italian teams, including five players, for having connections to the Camorra, an organized crime group headquartered in Napoli. Allegedly, the Camorra got players and others to help them fix games in Serie A, B and C. A mafia informant turned on his former bosses to spark the investigation of players like Siena's Nicola Ventola. Others in the league are already upset about the consequences that such serious allegations will have on Italian soccer's already tarnished reputation. "It's never nice when our championship is implicated," said Italian national team captain and Inter defender Fabio Cannavaro on Inter's official Web site. "I often think one should be happy with what he has - which is already a lot - and shouldn't go looking for more."
- People can tolerate inflated salaries if - and only if - the players making those millions are winning. Although players like Inter forward Christian Vieri and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have taken pay cuts, Serie A still admits that player salaries eat up 85 percent of annual revenue, according to Il Sole 24 Ore. And Serie A is in the red. Teams like Roma are still being investigated for fraud and the Parmalat and Cirio scandals continue to haunt Parma and Lazio respectively. A European Cup win for the national team might make the outrageous player salaries seem a bit justified. (OK, maybe that's still pushing it, considering people around the world are starving and these guys are getting paid gazillions of dollars to kick a ball!)
- National team players from squads like Inter, who suffered with a capital "S" this season, deserve a little bit of happiness - and so do all their fans. The European Cup gives players, some of whom are just as disillusioned as their public, the chance to make up for everything that went wrong during the Serie A season. They're looking for something to believe in. But even more than that, they have a deep desire - one might even say a need - to cancel out the humiliating losses, the scandals and any internal conflicts.
- Gli Azzurri would look even cuter with first place medals dangling from their necks. Even when the Italian national team got eliminated in only the second round of the 2002 World Cup, the players were applauded for their model good looks. Thousands of women in Japan mobbed the team. Designers Dolce & Gabbana even recently put out a coffee table book, Calcio, with photos of Italian soccer's hottest stars. I guess everyone can look on the bright side if Italy doesn't snag the Cup this summer. Win or lose, the ragazzi are a pretty bunch!
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