Huge blow to Italy as skipper suffers ankle injury

BADEN (Austria): Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro issued a message of support to the Azzurri yesterday after being ruled out of the European Championship with an ankle injury.

“I have a lot of confidence in this team. We’ve got some very experienced players and I’m sure we will do well,” Cannavaro said, flashing a large smile after arriving for a news conference on crutches. “That’s the main reason why I want to stay here, to encourage the squad.”

The defender will have surgery on his left ankle in Vienna so he can remain with Italy at the team’s training camp in Austria.

“The Real Madrid doctor is on his way here and he will assist me in the surgery, which will probably be tomorrow (this) morning,” team physician Andrea Ferretti said yesterday, adding that Cannavaro will likely be out “for a few months.”

Out: Fabio Cannavaro arriving for a news conference on crutches in Baden, Austria, yesterday. The Italianskipper is out of the Euro 2008 Finals after suffering an ankle injury during training on Monday. – AFP

Cannavaro tore ligaments during a collision with defender Giorgio Chiellini on Monday in Italy’s first practice session at the tournament.

“Chiellini was really down. I went over and tried to console him because it wasn’t his fault,” Cannavaro said. “I told him that as soon as gets a chance to play he’ll score, and he’ll know who to dedicate the goal to. These things happen to football players.”

The World Cup champions have called up Fiorentina defender Alessandro Gamberini to replace Cannavaro, with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon likely to take over the captaincy.

“Clearly it’s a big loss for the team, but it’s really positive for the team that he’s decided to stay,” Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said.

Italy open the tournament on Monday against Holland.

Cannavaro said he still intends to play another two years for Italy.

“I still have a lot of desire to play. But I’m very disappointed because this is my last European Championship. I already played in two and we lost one in the final (in 2000), and the other one in Portugal went badly,” said Cannavaro, recalling how Italy was eliminated in the first round four years ago.

Cannavaro has played 115 games for Italy, the most among active players. He needs only 11 more appearances to break Paolo Maldini’s record of 126 caps with the Azzurri.

“It sounds strange, but I’ve never thought about the record,” Cannavaro said. “I had the good fortune of winning a World Cup, and I don’t think anything can top that as a player.”

The 34-year-old Cannavaro was instrumental in Italy’s run to the World Cup title two years ago, earning the Golden Ball award based on his efforts at the tournament in Germany.

With Alessandro Nesta retired from international play, Italy’s other top central defenders are Marco Materazzi, Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini. Rightback Christian Panucci also has experience in the middle.

“When you lose a player of Fabio’s calibre, it weighs heavily,” Donadoni said.

“But we’re confident with the players that we have to replace him, even though they’re going to carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.” – AP

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