Eurospot: England's reasons to be cheerful
Just four months before the start of the Euro 2012 finals, England's preparations for the tournament have been thrown into a rather familiar state of flux.
Fabio Capello's shock departure as national boss, following the decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy, has led to no little chaos at Wembley - but England are a country well versed in tackling controversy ahead of major engagements.
From Bobby Moore and the case of the stolen necklace in Colombia in 1970, through Gazza's dentist chair prior to Euro 96 and on to the alleged John Terry-Wayne Bridge love triangle in 2010, off-the-field issues have continually dogged the national side when manager and players should instead be aligned in perfect harmony in pursuit of a professional pinnacle.
However, there have been instances in the past when a less than ideal preparation has not hindered a team's chances when reaching a major finals, and has possibly even improved them. Here are four such examples...
Brazil, World Cup 1970
The team of Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto have a strong claim to be considered the greatest of all time, but just a few months prior to their apogee, the Brazil side were ripped asunder from the coach that had done much to pull them together, Joao Saldanha.
Saldanha increasingly found himself on rocky ground as he unwisely made political enemies. After first refusing to allow his players to attend a reception with Brazil's President Emilio Garrastazu Medici, he then refused to pick Medici's favourite player, Dario, in a match against Argentina in March 1970. When asked to explain his team selection, the coach replied: "I don't choose the President's ministry and he can't choose my team."
He was swiftly sacked, to be replaced by a certain Mario Zagallo. Twice a World Cup winner as a player in 1958 and 1962, Zagallo tweaked Brazil's tactics when giving Rivelino a more prominent role and was rewarded with a campaign of splendid attacking football, culminating in an unforgettable 4-1 hammering of Italy in the final in Mexico's Azteca stadium, with Carlos Alberto finishing off one of the great team moves with four minutes remaining.
Italy, World Cup 1982
The Azzurri's long preparations for the finals in Spain were thrown into disarray by a huge betting scandal that caused great damage to Serie A's reputation. The Totonero controversy erupted in 1980 and saw in excess of 30 players and football officials caught up in allegations of match-fixing. The most high-profile figure implicated was international striker Paolo Rossi, who was banned for three years for his part in the scandal, later reduced to two years on appeal.
Rossi returned just in time for the 1982 finals and coach Enzo Bearzot had no hesitation in bringing him straight back into the Italy team, who started awfully when drawing with Poland, Peru and Cameroon to only just make it out of the group stages. With the press hammering them from all sides, Italy's squad imposed a media blackout - a 'silenzio stampa' - as they closed ranks.
The spirit in the camp was duly galvanised and, after defeating Argentina in the opening game of the second group stage, the previously inhibited Rossi exploded into life when scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Brazil that came to be known as one of the greatest games in World Cup history. Italy then defeated Poland 2-0 in the semi-final, Rossi scoring twice, and triumphed 3-1 over West Germany in the final, with the striker opening the scoring at the Bernabeu to complete his transformation from football pariah to national hero.
Denmark, Euro 1992
The Danes failed to qualify for the finals in Sweden and made alternative plans accordingly. Many members of the squad were away sunning themselves on the beach when the call came through that Denmark had been handed an unlikely reprieve due to Yugoslavia's expulsion following the civil war that had broken out in the country. Manager Richard Moller Nielsen was tasked with ringing around his players and scrabbling together a squad in two weeks.
Denmark's preparations were made all the more difficult by the fact that Michael Laudrup, the country's greatest ever player, had resigned from international football, citing differences with Nielsen. It was hardly a surprise when they started with an uninspired 0-0 draw against England. A 1-0 defeat to Sweden followed, before Denmark beat France 2-1 to reach the knock-out stages and promptly saw off Netherlands in the semi-finals courtesy of a penalty shoot-out victory.
Famously, goals from future Arsenal cult hero John Jensen and Kim Vilfort did for Germany in the final as Denmark, inspired by the peerless Peter Schmeichel, enjoyed one of the most unexpected football triumphs of all time. Nielsen said in the days following his victory: "I should have put in a new kitchen but then we were called away to play in Sweden. The kitchen is finished now. I had a professional decorator do it."
Italy, World Cup 2006
A full 24 years after their triumph in Spain, Italy approached another World Cup campaign with the stench of corruption hanging over them. The impact of the scandal known as Calciopoli had shaken Serie A to its very core, with Reggina, Fiorentina, Lazio, Milan and, most notoriously, Juventus all found guilty of match-fixing through influencing the selection of match officials. Multiple officials were given bans from football but the final punishments to be handed down to the clubs involved had not been finally settled before the start of the tournament, leaving the futures of players as high-profile as Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro in limbo.
The scandal's tentacles spread far and wide as Italy was forced to withdraw its designated referee, Massimo De Santis, from the tournament after he came under investigation, while national coach Marcello Lippi was also forced to deny suggestions that he was placed under pressure to select certain players for the Azzurri as his son Davide's GEA World agency was placed under investigation.
Somehow, though, Italy put aside their evident troubles to cruise through the group stage and then defeat Australia, Ukraine and Germany en route to a final showdown with France, who they beat on a penalty shoot-out. Cannavaro, who was to leave Juventus for Real Madrid following confirmation of the Old Lady's relegation after the tournament, lifted the trophy and went on to claim the Ballon d'Or for 2006. Lippi resigned from his role, stating: "At the end of an extraordinary professional and human experience, experienced as the head of an exceptional group of players... I believe my role is over as the guide of the Italian national team."