Monday, 8 January 2007

President honours Azzurri heroes

Italy President Giorgio Napolitano honoured the Italian World Cup squad at a special ceremony in Rome on Monday.

Former boss Marcello Lippi and his 23 players were given the title as Cavaliere – an Italian style OBE – following their triumphant Germany 2006 campaign.

"The victory, full of light, removed the shadows that had fallen over our soccer world," Napolitano said in reference to the Calciopoli scandal which rocked the outfit’s preparations.

Italy lifted their fourth World Cup after a memorable semi-final win over the hosts and they then beat France on penalties in the Final after the game ended 1-1.

Today’s ceremony also gave Lippi the chance to reunite with his troops after he quit as Coach just three days following the Berlin victory.

“The key moment was Francesco Totti’s penalty against Australia and the game versus Germany,” the former Juventus maestro remembered.

“Against the Germans, I decided to throw on Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta to give us four forwards,” he noted when looking back on the extra-time 2-0 win. That was because our defence was much stronger than theirs and was absorbing the German strikers well.

"I wanted to see if their defence could cope with our attackers. Nevertheless, our victory last summer was the result of two years of hard work and a united group."

Turning to the future, Lippi again insisted that he intended to start coaching at the beginning of next term. "I've only received offers from abroad up until now, many from England, Spain, Eastern European countries, Arab countries," the Viareggino explained. “But I didn’t even consider them. I’ll start thinking about my options should any offers come my way from April onwards.”

Milan defender Alessandro Nesta was the only Azzurri hero who was unable to attend the ceremony as he is still recovering from a shoulder operation.

Napolitano also brought a smile to faces when Marco Materazzi came to shake his hand, seeing as the President followed that up by gently pressing his hand against Materazzi’s chest – where Zinedine Zidane head-butted the defender during the Final.

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