France coach Raymond Domenech has stirred controversy ahead of Les Blues’ Euro 2008 qualifier against Italy by making match-fixing allegations against the Azzurrini.
The Azzurri face France at the San Siro on September 8 amid fears that they will be rusty after just two weeks of the Serie A campaign.
It promises to be a tense affair with memories of last summer’s World Cup Final still fresh in the mind and Domenech has fanned the flames with accusations of corruption.
"The main problem could be the referees, but that’s often the problem with Italy," he told Le Parisien. "In the past there have been rigged games like the France v Italy Under-21 qualifier for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
"They had bought the ref and the cheating was incredible. If it happens once you have doubts, but there are hidden agreements in Italian football."
Equally surprisingly, the Lyon-born tactician was full of praise for the controversial Marco Materazzi who was on the receiving end of the Zinedine Zidane head-butt that turned the Berlin Final around.
"He scored, he got his best opponent sent off and he converted his penalty. He was the star of the Final, not Andrea Pirlo," the 55-year-old continued.
"It’s not about insults, but provoking someone until they boil over. It happens in every sport, even volleyball across the net. On the pitch any way you can unbalance the opponent and exploit their weaknesses benefits your team.
"Whoever provokes shows strength, whoever reacts shows weakness.
"As a coach I want my players to give the English response and give compliments after the game regardless of the insults during it."
Domenech was also keen to underline his respect for Italian football. "You can say whatever you like, but the Italians have exceptional players and I admire them," he admitted.
"They play the most efficient football in Europe, perhaps the world, and I like it. We'll see who the great players are at the San Siro with 80,000 whistling fans," he concluded.
Source: C4 Football Italia