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By ESPN Staff

Legend Maldini backs under-pressure Italy

ROME, June 7 (Reuters) - Former Italy captain Paolo Maldini believes his countrymen will be unaffected by the soccer scandal at home when they launch their World Cup bid against Ghana on June 12.

'I think the squad can stay out of it. The matches will be an important moment to refocus attention on the sport,' the 37-year-old AC Milan defender was quoted as saying in daily La Repubblica on Wednesday.

Italian football was left reeling a month ago, when the publication of transcripts of telephone conversations between former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi and officials at the Italian Football Federation prompted an investigation into allegations of match-fixing in Serie A.

Among the players drawn into the investigations was national team captain Fabio Cannavaro, who last week was questioned by magistrates in Rome as part as of a probe into soccer management company GEA World, which is run by Moggi's son Alessandro.

'A captain has to take on a lot of things, but Fabio has big shoulders. He is already at his third World Cup. What can I teach him?' said Maldini, who made a record 126 appearances for the Azzurri, 74 of them as captain and played at World Cups in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002.

'We cannot pretend that nothing has happened. We must not be afraid to discover everything there is to discover.

'To get everything cleared up is necessary, because kids must be certain that football is a serious thing.'

Despite uninspired draws against Switzerland and the Ukraine last week, Maldini believes that Italy are ready to make up for early exits in the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004.

'The negative experiences (in 2002 and 2004) have helped us to get going again,' he said.

'In my opinion, we are inferior only to Brazil, and we have a solid group, which counts for a lot.'