Going into World Cup 2006 there was a cloud surrounding Italy amidst match-fixing allegations that ended with Juventus being stripped of two Serie A titles and being relegated. The scandal also saw AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina deducted points. Many supporters and pundits alike thought that this would hamper their World Cup campaign and that they would struggle in Germany. However this did not come to pass as the Rossoneri won their fourth World Cup with a penalty shoot-out win over France.
This summer they entered Euro 2012 with similar accusations surrounding the squad with seven Italian suffering points deductions. Similarly to 2006 people have been quick to write of Italy's chances saying that the scandal will affect the players; while some say the Italian squad is too old and that they will not score enough goals. True, there are are a few older players in the 23 but they bring great experience to the side, especially players like Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon who won the World Cup in 2006. The attack is not too shabby either with the enigmatic Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli their main goal threat with Antonio di Natale and Antonio Cassano perfectly capable of hitting the back of the net.
If Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 that would automatically eliminate Italy who have suffered a similar fate before. Ironically, considering Italy's bad match-fixing reputation, back in 2004 Denmark and Sweden played out a 2-2 draw to ensure the Italians exited the competition. Goalkeeper Buffon quashed fears of that happening again suggesting that Spain would not stoop that low: "It would be a joke all across Europe and I don't think it will happen. I do not think that Spain, a world champion with players like Xavi or Iniesta, would sully their prestige with a pact. It's different to the Sweden-Denmark case, because Spain are better than Croatia, not at the same level."
Despite this the facts remain the same: If Croatia can upset Spain then they will finish as group winners and Italy will definitely drop out of the tournament if they fail to beat Ireland. The 1968 winners will be expected to comfortably get past the Irish green army after they were comfortably brushed aside in their opening two games. The Italian fans do not seem to be holding high hopes of winning the championship this time around, akin to the England fans' expectations. However a convincing win today will probably give them a place in the knock-out rounds and they will be quietly confident of proving the non-believers wrong.