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http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news;_ylc=X3oDMTBpYjk0aWtjBF9TAzk1ODYzNTkwBHNlYwN0aA--?slug=reu-worlditaly_sports_feature&prov=reuters&type=lgns

ROME, April 10 (Reuters) - When Italy open their World Cup campaign against Ghana on June 12 they won't be facing one set of adversaries but three.

First, they will have 11 Ghanaians to contend with.

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Then there is the referee and his linesmen. Almost every Italy fan blames Ecuadorean whistleblower Byron Moreno for their team's elimination by South Korea in 2002.

Finally, there is the enemy within in the shape of Italy's fifth columnists -- the sports press.

The Italian passion for sport means the country boasts three big sports dailies -- La Gazzetta dello Sport, Corriere dello Sport and Tuttosport -- each of which must fill about 30 pages every day and even more during a World Cup.

Filling the papers occasionally means upsetting somebody.

Franco Zuccala is one of Italy's most experienced football writers. The 75-year-old has covered every World Cup since 1966, worked as a TV presenter for state broadcaster RAI and written for more than 60 newspapers, including La Gazzetta dello Sport.

He says part of the problem is saturation -- the huge demand for news means journalists end up sniffing around for scandal.

"I'm more of a man than the lot of you put together. You don't have a conscience," Italy striker Christian Vieri told a packed news conference at Euro 2004, holding up a newspaper article that claimed he had fallen out with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Zuccala also believes the tortured relationship between the scribblers and the dribblers has as much to do with fierce regional loyalties in Italy, which leads editors to set one player against another.

GEO-POLITICAL

"It's a geo-political question. In Italy the press is concentrated in Milan and Rome and editors tend to come out in support of players from their area, whether they play for Roma or Lazio or whether they play for a northern club," he says.

In this respect, Zuccala argues, Italy coach Marcello Lippi has acted shrewdly in drawing on players from around the country.

"Every coach tries to pick his best players but Lippi has chosen his squad from all over the place.

"There are players from up north, players from Palermo, a number from Rome, like (Francesco) Totti and (Daniele) De Rossi."

But could it not also be the case that Italians prefer their sport when it is spiced up with a dash of controversy?

Italy's most famous television football show, Il Processo di Biscardi (Biscardi's trial), is a kind of kangaroo court composed mostly of journalists.

The defendants (never present) are players, coaches, referees, club presidents, football administrators -- anyone who has failed to spot an offside, missed a sitter, fielded the "wrong" player, or fallen short of footballing perfection.

The discussion begins calmly but ends with contributors talking, and often shouting, over the top of each other.

Il Processo was first broadcast in 1980.

One of its earliest targets was then Italy coach Enzo Bearzot, who became the object of stinging criticism over his refusal to name Serie A's leading scorer at the time, Roberto Pruzzo of AS Roma, in his squad for the 1982 World Cup.

MEDIA BLACKOUT

Increasingly under fire after a poor start to the tournament, Bearzot ordered his players to stop talking to the media.

Italy went on to beat West Germany in the final, but the breakdown of communication during Italy's finest hour left a bitter taste that refuses to go fade even today.

"If you notice, you don't often see people talking about Bearzot. There is still bad blood there that has never gone away," Zuccala says.

"The heroes of that World Cup have become (Marco) Tardelli and (Paolo) Rossi. The press have shunted Bearzot to one side."

Bearzot's successors have also endured a bumpy ride.

Arrigo Sacchi was furious when the press revealed details of his salary, while Lippi's predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni was ridiculed for the vial of holy water he took to the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

Apart from an outburst in World Cup qualifying when he called a RAI cameraman a "********", Lippi has maintained his composure, though the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major tournament promises to be the ultimate test of his cool, cigar-munching persona.

"He's taken us to the World Cup. He has beaten Holland and Germany. He can't do better than that," Zuccala says.

"But the arguments are bound to start when he names his team. Someone will ask why he didn't pick (Christian) Panucci from Roma, or (Massimo) Oddo from Lazio."

Then, of course, if Italy don't beat Ghana, the knives will be out.

"There's an old Sicilian saying: 'If you're badly dressed, the dog will bite you,'" Zuccala says.

"As long as he's winning, he'll be OK. As soon as Italy lose, the arguments will start up.

"You'd think the players would be able to take a bit of criticism but they're just like anyone else. To have the press constantly at your back affects you in the end".


This is the first time I hear of Lippi calling someone a ********, anyone care to ellaborate?
 
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