ROME: The icy hand of a matchfixing investigation fastened itself around Italy’s squad preparing for the Euro 2012 finals – just as in 2006 when they went on to win the World Cup.
Italian police raided the Azzurri’s training camp at Coverciano near Florence early Monday morning to question defender Domenico Criscito. He subsequently withdrew from Italy’s squad though he insisted he had done nothing wrong; Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci, also named in the latest corruption inquiry, decided to stay on and could play tonight/Tuesday against Luxembourg in Parma.
Criscito, who now plays in Russia for Zenit St Petersburg, is under suspicion in a rapidly-expanding investigation being run by prosecutors in Cremona. The raid was just one involving 280police in 23 cities and towns. Also under investigation is Juventus’ championship-winning coach, Antonio Conte.
Criscito said: “To do match-fixing things is not something I would do. I don’t need money – 20 or 30 or 40,000 euro – whatever it was. I do a job that I’ve always dreamed of doing since I was young and I would not mess it up for stupid acts. It hurts that this has happened at this time but I’m sure that I will come out stronger.”
Prosecutors have alleged the 25-year-old Criscito acted unlawfully while he was with Genoa between 2008 and 2011.
His agent, Andrea D’Amico, said: “Criscito is ready to explain anything that may have caused him to be under the spotlight. Our lawyers are working in order for the magistrates to listen to him as soon as possible. “Our only wish is for everything to be cleared as soon as possible.”
Earlier on Monday, Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and former Genoa midfielder Omar Milanetto were arrested in the probe over allegations of “criminal association and sporting fraud”.
Officers also searched more than 31 homes in Italy and abroad, including those of coaches and players of clubs in Serie A, Serie B and lower divisions.
Monday’s operation is part of an investigation called “Last Bet” carried out by prosecutors in Cremona which focuses on 33 games over the past two seasons, the majority of which were in Serie B.
Conte is being investigated on suspicion of sporting fraud and fraudulent association over allegations concerning a match between Siena and Novara in April 2011. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing involving Juve.
Italy was rocked by a match-fixing scandal in 2006, the year they last won the World Cup. Juventus were subsequently relegated for the first time in their history as punishment. This past season they won the Serie A title for the first time since then.
Federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini, a former Italy and Milan midfielder, said: “These are things that we would not like to have had to go through. You can understand the bitterness in the changing room. The players were shocked by what has happened. Criscito has received a lot of support from his national team-mates considering the terrible time he is going through
“But I am not worried about the European Championship. I went through events of 2006 myself. I hope only that it brings good luck just as it did back then. We have a solid squad made of genuine people. I know the players will be able to manage situation as this one.”
In June last year, the Interior Ministry set up a match-fixing task force in response to a number of high-profile cases. Ex-Atalanta captain and Italy midfielder Cristiano Doni was banned for three-and-a-half years in August for his part in the ‘Calcioscommesse’ scandal involving Serie B matches last term. Atalanta, promoted from Serie B, were deducted six points in the top flight this season as a result.
Former Lazio and Italy striker Giuseppe Signori was banned for five years and 15 other players were suspended for between one and five years for their part in the same scandal.
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