Scott Fleming shifts through the detritus of a disastrous seven days for Italy and tries to find reasons for optimism.
The corridors of Coverciano must be littered with broken mirrors and black cats.
A police raid and Domenico Criscito's exclusion from the squad last Monday, Leonardo Bonucci being placed under suspicion of similar Calcioscommesse misdeeds last Tuesday, a friendly against Luxembourg cancelled on Wednesday, a friendly against Russia they were left wishing had been cancelled on Friday, and last night, news of an injury which could see Andrea Barzagli miss Italy's Euro 2012 campaign in its entirety.
It's been a catastrophic seven days for La Nazionale all told.
What next? Andrea Pirlo to do his metatarsal in a collision with the drinks trolley on the flight to Poland? Mario Balotelli to suffer an injury on the escalator at Krakow airport? Antonio Cassano to bankrupt the team with his room service bill?
Each individual setback has been met with the same response. It’s Italy, adversity is their middle name, they eat scandal for breakfast. But as blow after blow rains down, the twin forces of despair and panic become harder to resist. “Italy against everything,” reads the front page of today's Gazzetta dello Sport. More misery can be found in the sub headline “Criscito: 'That place is mine, the Coach made a promise.' Albertini: 'That's not true.'”
Yes, we can add internal dispute to injury, scandal and poor friendly performances in the list of problems the Azzurri could really do without. Whether or not Criscito's claims are credible, he has stirred up a broth which was already threatening to boil over. Criscito's contention is that Prandelli informed him: “He would call me up if anyone had to leave the squad because of injury. He said it didn't matter what role they played in, even if they were an attacker. [FIGC Vice President Demetrio] Albertini was there too.”
Instead though, Prandelli appears to have earmarked Cagliari's Davide Astori as Barzagli's replacement, if the latter fails to recover from his left soleus injury, otherwise known as a calf strain.
The fact Prandelli is even contemplating keeping a player in his squad who will in all likelihood miss the group stage is an indication both of the lack of central defensive talent on the peninsula and of the dramatic career renaissance Barzagli has undergone with Juventus, going from three years without a international call up to becoming one of the players the Commissario Tecnico can least afford to do without.
His absence not only deprives Italy of a first-choice centre-back but of an important tactical alternative. The 3-5-2 which Prandelli had hinted he would introduce for the Spain showdown this Sunday now looks less viable, even if it was trialled in training this morning, with Daniele De Rossi stepping into the back three.
At this point it’s futile to trail out the old lines about Italy thriving in adversity, but at the risk of exceeding acceptable levels of optimism and contradicting the preceding 400 words I say this: it’s not all doom and gloom.
Astori is young, inexperienced internationally and playing for a provincial club, but so was Barzagli when he stepped in and did such an admirable job after Marco Materazzi's sending off against Australia at the 2006 World Cup. Barzagli, Criscito and Beppe Rossi are big misses but Italy's personnel problems are nowhere near as severe as those of other contenders such as England. And no matter how many injuries happen, at least now, unlike at the 2010 World Cup, we know that whoever steps into the side is going to be someone who is there on merit.
This tournament was never about winning, it was about showing the world the new Italy, a younger, more stylish Azzurri that is proactive not reactive. And that - black cats and broken mirrors permitting - is what they remain on course to do.
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