London, Jun 24 (ANI): World champions Italy, who might have to face the shame of a first-round exit today, were heaped with more embarrassment amid allegations of bribery on coach Marcello Lippi's team.
After taking just two points from as many games in Group F, Italy must beat Slovakia here to guarantee a last-16 spot without relying on the outcome of the other group fixture between New Zealand and Paraguay.
The Italian camp has been rocked by politician Umberto Bossi, who outrageously suggested that Slovakia might be bribed to ensure Italy's progress to the knockout stage in exchange for some of their players joining Serie A next season.
Discussing his country's below-par displays, Bossi, leader of Italy's northern league, said: "Anyway they will buy the game. You'll see; in the next season there will be two or three Slovak footballers playing in Italian teams."
The Italian football federation called his statement "disconcerting and offensive" and "out of line".
The prospect of following France out of the competition is haunting Italian fans as well some of the players, the Daily Express reports.
Midfielder Daniele de Rossi fears they will be on their way home unless they improve considerably.
Another draw would only be sufficient if Paraguay beat New Zealand but De Rossi feels nothing can be left to chance.
"We'll have to improve quickly because otherwise we won't be going far. It's not just a problem with our forwards - it's the whole team. It's useless making calculations - we know we must win," said De Rossi. (ANI)