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Football

Baggio set for Italian renaissance


Roberto Baggio
Baggio remains one of Serie A's most consistent performers.
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ROME, Italy -- Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni is refusing to rule out the possibility that former world player of the year Roberto Baggio could yet make the Italian squad for Euro 2004 in June.

Playmaker Baggio, 37, is set to make his first outing for Italy in five years when he lines up against Spain in a friendly on Wednesday.

Trapattoni told a news conference on Tuesday that Baggio's call-up, a month before he is due to retire from the game, was an "act of recognition" for his achievements.

However, when pressed about Baggio's future, the Azzurri coach said: "The future is in the hands of God.

"Roberto knows this is a long story that has been going on for two and a half to three years.

"I have always left the door open and today he is here which is significant in itself."

The Italy coach did, however, remind his audience that there was a squad of players who had led Italy to qualification.

"In life you can never say never," said Trapattoni. "But (the decision) won't be on the basis of the media because if I listened to the media there would be 30 players in the squad and 10 million different formations."

Baggio said he was proud to return to the Italy side at such a late stage in his career.

A great moment

"I am very happy and I want to thank the boss and the Federation for giving me this chance," he said. "It is a great moment. If there is something else, well...but I want to enjoy this moment."

Baggio, who won the last of his 55 caps in a European qualifier against Belarus in 1999, remains one of the most consistent players in Serie A.

In March he celebrated his 200th Serie A goal, taking him to fifth on the all-time list, and he has found the net 11 times for Brescia this season.

With Inter's Christian Vieri out of sorts, Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero short of form and AC Milan's Filippo Inzaghi struggling to shake off an ankle injury, the Corriere dello Sport newspaper on Monday called for Baggio's Italian renaissance to be continued into the summer.

"Baggio merits to go to Euro 2004 not for his extraordinary career, but because he's playing well and many of our strikers are having problems," the paper said in an editorial.

Baggio, known as the "Divine Ponytail" broke into the Italian side during their run to the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup and was named FIFA's World Player of the Year in 1993.

He will always be associated with the 1994 World Cup, when Italy reached the final on the back of a string of brilliant Baggio performances.

But Italy's hero famously missed the decisive penalty in the shootout at the end of a 0-0 draw, handing the trophy to Brazil.

Inzaghi operation

Inzaghi, meanwhile, is to undergo exploratory surgery on his troublesome left ankle in a bid to save his season from being cut short, his Serie A club said.

The 30-year-old has not played for the league leaders since coming on as a second-half substitute in Milan's 4-0 defeat away to Deportivo Coruna on April 7.

Inzaghi said he hoped to play for Milan before the season ends and to go to Portugal for the European championships this summer.

"It's unfortunate but it's is the only solution," he said.

"I spoke at length with the team doctors and they told me it was best to intervene as quickly as possible.

"My first and only thought is to cure this problem once and for all so that I can return to action without the fear of further problems."

Milan can win the Italian league title on Sunday if they beat Roma at the San Siro.


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