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Pato: Euro 2012 success can ease Italian 'suffering'

updated 9:42 AM EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
  • AC Milan star Alexandre Pato says Euro 2012 can save Italy's tainted reputation in football
  • Brazilian forward believes winning the tournament would change Italian game
  • Scores of football figures have been arrested in latest Italian match-fixing scandal
  • Defender Domenico Criscito withdrew from squad before Euro 2012 after police raid

(CNN) -- Italy's soccer players can heal the "suffering" caused by the country's match-fixing scandal by winning Euro 2012, says AC Milan star Alexandre Pato.

The Brazilian forward, who has played in Serie A since he was 17, says an Azzurri victory in Poland and Ukraine could rejuvenate Italian football following a year blighted by corruption allegations.

The team's Euro 2012 preparations were disrupted by a police raid on their training base four days before the start of the tournament, as several prominent football figures were arrested in connection with a match-fixing and betting investigation.

The scandal prompted manager Cesare Prandelli to admit his team could pull out of the competition, but instead they have thrived and will face Germany in the semifinals on Thursday.

"What happened with the match fixing and the betting, it was really bad. Italian football has suffered a lot and we as players have suffered a lot," said Pato, who moved to Milan from Brazilian club Internacional for $32 million in 2007.

"But who knows... Italy in Euro 2012 can turn it around so that Italian football can change and come back to world-class standards."

The "suffering" described by Pato struck at the very core of Prandelli's team, which beat England in a penalty shootout on Sunday to reach the last four.

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Full-back Domenico Criscito pulled out of Italy's squad on May 29 after being questioned by officials probing gambling markets linked to fixing results of matches in Serie A.

Nineteen others were arrested, 11 of them players in Italy's top division, in the ongoing investigation by magistrates in the city of Cremona.

The arrests were the latest in a long-running saga that has severely damaged Italian football.

Seventeen people were arrested in a similar swoop last year, including former Lazio star Giuseppe Signori and ex-Italy striker Cristiano Doni, who was subsequently banned from the game for three and a half years.

The allegations initially centered on the lower Italian football leagues but the latest police sweep indicates that suspicion has also fallen on the most high-profile teams.

Italy reach semifinals after penalty kicks drama

Meanwhile, Pato believes that on the pitch Italy's current squad can compete with Europe's best sides -- and possibly cause an upset against the highly fancied Germans.

"Most people didn't expect Italy to get this far," said the 22-year-old, who will be representing Brazil at the London 2012 Olympics.

"Germany and Spain are really strong. Portugal has surprised me; they have Cristiano (Ronaldo) who is playing really well. But I'm going to root for Italy to get to the final, and I hope they can win it."

It wouldn't be the first time the Italy team had triumphed in the face of adversity.

The Azzurri won the 2006 World Cup in the wake of the Calciopoli match fixing scandal, which saw Turin giants Juventus relegated to the second tier and stripped of two league titles.

The repercussions of the latest corruption investigation are uncertain, but a repeat performance from the national side would go a long way to lifting the shadow hanging over one of Europe's great football nations.

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