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July 7, 2006   

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Meet the Italians

The Azzurris will be playing for pride.

Want to join the French team?

A match-fixing scandal that involves four top clubs and 26 officials is rocking Italian football. A Juventus official, it seems, has attempted suicide.

There is a question mark over the professional future, and professional integrity, of 13 of the 23 players in the Italian World Cup squad, who play in those four clubs.

The Road to Berlin

And the verdict on the scandal could come hours before the World Cup final kicks off in Berlin.

But all will be forgotten and forgiven if captain Fabio Cannavaro's boys can lift the top prize in world football. And they are focusing completely on Sunday now. One report says in the team hotel, female waitresses have been sent on vacation, apparently to minimise distractions.

Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon has conceded just one goal in the World Cup so far, that too an own goal. And he is the keeper for Juventus, who are in the eye of the scandal.

So, he has an extra stake in ensuring the Italians beat France's record of conceding the least number of goals -- just two, in 1998 -- en route to lifting the World Cup.

Many -- including Ukranian striker Andriy Shevchenko -- rate Buffon as the best goalkeeper in the world.

The 28-year-old Buffon -- who won his first national cap when he was 19, and who often visits and helps less fortunate people in Africa -- will do all he can to spoil Zinedine Zidane's glorious exit plans, for sure.

Photograph: Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images

Also See: Football Fiesta: The complete coverage


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