Three Italian fans blow kisses prior to the National team's Euro 2008 match against Romania in Zurich on Friday. Photo: AFP
Italian fury over the refereeing at Euro 2008 showed no signs of abating on Saturday as the recriminations escalated towards a level last witnessed after the Azzurri's exit from the 2002 World Cup.
Roberto Donadoni's squad have been left on the brink of elimination from the tournament after a 3-0 defeat to Holland in their opening match was followed by a 1-1 draw with Romania here on Friday night.
In the match against the Dutch, the Italians were aggrieved that Ruud van Nistelrooy's opening goal was allowed to stand because Christian Panucci, who was off the pitch injured at the time, had played him onside, in line with a rule few people were aware of.
Against Romania, the Italians were denied an opening goal in first-half stoppage time when Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo flagged for offside after Luca Toni's header had hit the back of the net.
Television replays suggested Ovrebo could have given Toni the benefit of the doubt although it may have been that his strike partner Alessandro del Piero was fractionally offside when Gianluigi Zambrotta sent in his cross.
Despite admitting he had not seen the Toni incident clearly, Italy coach Roberto Donadoni claimed after the match that the official had been guilty of "gross" errors over that decision and a penalty he gave for a Panucci challenge on Adrian Mutu, which Gianluigi Buffon saved to keep the score at 1-1.
"Referees can and will always make mistakes," said Giancarlo Abete, the president of the Italian football federation.
"But we have to look at every debatable incident. As UEFA intervened to explain why the van Nistelrooy goal was legitimate, I now expect them to do the same thing for Toni's goal, which would have certainly changed the course of the match."
Midfielder Daniele De Rossi added: "The most serious thing is the lack of consistency in the decisions. After five days we still don't know if van Nistelrooy's goal should have stood but our goal against Romania certainly should have done. We deserved to win that match."
The incensed reaction from players and officials was mirrored in the Italian press. "Italy furious, now they need a miracle" read the front page of Corriere dello Sport while La Repubblica headlined: "The referee against Italy, UEFA must explain."
The implication that officials were actively conspiring against Italy echoes the furore that erupted after co-hosts South Korea eliminated them from the 2002 World Cup in a second round match in which Francesco Totti was controversially dismissed in extra-time.
"It seemed as if they just sat around a table and decided to throw us out," a government minister, Franco Frattini, claimed at the time, reflecting a widespread belief in Italy that the tournament had been rigged against them.
The current polemic over the refereeing at Euro 2008 has largely ignored the reality that most neutral observers regarded the outcome of both Italy's matches as a fair reflection of the efforts of the two teams involved.
Holland were far superior to the world champions and, given that they went on to beat France 4-1, it seems reasonable to assume they would have won their opening match even if van Nistelrooy's goal had been disallowed.
Friday's match was more evenly balanced but Romania could justifiably claim to have been unfortunate not to have edged it having forced Buffon to make three high-quality saves, including the one from Mutu's spot-kick ten minutes from the end.