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Joy and shame in one remarkable day
July 05, 2006 19:02 IST
Italian football has never been short on drama and frequently touches the extremes of brilliance and degradation but Tuesday's events crammed all facets of 'calcio' into a few hours of intense emotion.
Within the space of 12 hours, four top clubs were threatened with relegation for match-fixing, the coach of the country's top club Juventus resigned and then Italy [Images] produced an outstanding performance to beat hosts Germany [Images] 2-0 at the World Cup and book a place in Sunday's final.
"I don't think even we believed we'd get this far, but now we've got a chance to give a dream to the Italian people," said Italy striker Luca Toni.
The start of the day in Rome had been anything but dreamy.
The drama began in a room in the capital's Olympic stadium where the prosecutor in the match-fixing trial, Stefano Palazzi, demanded that four of Italy's top clubs be demoted for their role in a scandal which has shaken the foundations of Italian soccer.
Palazzi said he wanted champions Juventus to be relegated to the third division and six-times European champions AC Milan along with former Italian title winners Fiorentina and Lazio thrown out of the top flight Serie A.
Shortly after Palazzi announced his demands, Juventus coach Fabio Capello jumped ship, handing in his resignation to club officials in Turin.
The man who guided Juve to two titles they may now be stripped of is widely expected to take over at Spanish club Real Madrid.
Not exactly the sort of build-up Italy coach Marcello Lippi would have wanted for his team as they prepared to take on Germany in Dortmund -- a venue where the hosts had never lost in 14 games.
There are five Juventus players in the Italy squad and another eight from clubs threatened with relegation but if the news from Rome and Turin did disturb the players it was hardly noticeable on the pitch.
Italy, unbeaten now in 24 games, delivered a mature display of controlled football for 90 minutes before taking the uncharacteristic step of throwing caution to the wind in extra-time.
The Azzurri went straight for the Germans with Alberto Gilardino hitting the post and then attacking full-back Gianluca Zambrotta crashing a shot against the crossbar.
Then late in the second period of extra-time, with four strikers on the field, defender Fabio Grosso curled in a shot to put Lippi's side ahead and moments later Alessandro Del Piero, the Juventus poster boy, finished off German hopes with a coolly taken finish to make it 2-0.
Back in Italy, all thought of lawyers, accused club officials and eventual sanctions were forgotten as thousands took to the streets to celebrate a victory which means the Azzurri maintain their curious record of reaching the World Cup final every 12 years since 1970.
Most of the Italy team continued their policy of trying to draw a clear line between events at home and their World Cup adventure but Del Piero, who does not know what division his club will be in next season or who the coach will be, could not resist.
"The Juventus lads were magnificent. You could say that was the latest riposte to what we 'Juventini' have had to take. But the main aim is Sunday's final. We'll enjoy this moment and then think about Sunday," he said.
Italy will face France [Images] or Portugal in Sunday's final in Berlin and the verdicts in the match-fixing trial are expected within days of the match.