Italy’s preparation for their final European Championship Group C clash against Ireland here on Monday is at risk of being derailed by a ‘biscuit’.
The 2006 world champions sit third in their group after 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, trailing both by two points, with pointless Ireland already out.
Azzurri’s preparations should be firmly concentrated on getting the victory over Ireland that should prove sufficient to send them into the quarter-finals.
However, talk of a biscotto, or biscuit in English, has got Italian nerves jangling and conspiracy theorists clamouring foul play before even a ball has been kicked.
Should Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 in Gdansk then they will both qualify for the quarter-finals at Italy’s expense, regardless of their result against Ireland.
This is because in the case of two or more teams finishing level on points their head-to-head records come into play.
It was a similar scenario at Euro 2004 when Italy were ousted by a 2-2 draw in the final game between Nordic neighbours Sweden and Denmark.
Those two played a competitive match until the fourth goal went in and then seemed to both settle for the result that guaranteed their passage into the knock-out stages.
That has become known as a biscotto in Italian as it is the term used for an arrangement between two parties at the expense of a third.
Its origin comes either from horses being doped by biscuits or the principle of dividing up a cake equally, according to Italian sources.
But whichever is the truth, the fact is the Italians are rattled and, rather than focussing purely on Ireland they are being eaten up by the possibility of being crunched by a biscotto.
Despite coach Cesare Prandelli’s claims that they have nothing to worry about, there can be no doubt that it is in the players’ minds. He said: “We need to win the game (against Ireland) and deserve to progress to the next round.
“I think Spain will beat Croatia; for the past 10 years they’ve had a certain image ... Spain have always produced a spectacle and played well, everyone wants to emulate them; why would they think about a biscuit now?”
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has vowed to play to win the game against Croatia but the question remains how they will approach matters if they are drawing with time running out. Would Spain risk losing?
Any kind of score draw would almost guarantee they win the group – unless it’s 1-1 and Italy beat Ireland by more than four goals. Del Bosque may want to win the game but would he risk losing it when his side are guaranteed to progress with any kind of draw?
The bigger issue for Italy will be the potential banana skin that is Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland. Trapattoni was the Italy coach in Portugal eight years ago and there would be a sort of poetic injustice perhaps were he to be the architect of Italy’s downfall this time around.
Ireland are out and the veteran coach wants to start building for the future. And the 73-year-old Trapattoni doesn’t want to take the biscuit.