The Tournament's early turning point: Fabio
Cannavaro is injured at training [AFP] 
Italian football captain Fabio Cannavaro is proof that when problems arise, the most important thing for a football squad is team unity.

Almost as soon as Cannavaro was ruled out of the European Championship with an ankle injury, he announced that he would stay with the team at the tournament in Austria and Switzerland to offer moral support.

"I'm just going to be a spectator in the stands and someone who cheers up my teammates in tough times, because in times of difficulty, the group comes together more,'' Cannavaro said, flashing a large smile after arriving for a news conference on crutches.

Success after adversity

Two years ago, as Italy was preparing for the World Cup, Cannavaro faced calls to step down as captain because the Italian match-fixing scandal revealed alleged illicit behavior in his transfer from Inter Milan to Juventus.

Cannavaro, of course, didn't budge, and the photo of him raising the World Cup following little more than a month later became the symbolic image of Italy's victory in Germany.

"The absence of Fabio will weigh heavily, but the fact that he is staying here is really encouraging,'' Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said.

"It's going to be important for the group.''

Cannavaro's surgery is slated for Wednesday, after which he will begin his rehabilitation process at Italy's training base in nearby Baden.

"When I got back to my room at the hotel last night and told everyone that I was going to stay, they were all pleased and that was really special to see,'' Cannavaro said.

Cannavaro tore ligaments during a collision with defender Giorgio Chiellini on Monday in Italy's first practice session at the tournament.

"Chiellini was really down. I went over and tried to console him because it wasn't his fault,'' Cannavaro said.

"I told him that as soon as gets a chance to play he'll score, and he'll know who to dedicate the goal to. These things happen to soccer players.''

A jubliant Cannavaro
in Berlin [AFP]
Buffon to be handed the armband

The World Cup champions have called up Fiorentina defender Alessandro Gamberini to replace Cannavaro, with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon likely to take over as captain.

Italy opens the tournament Monday against the Netherlands.

Until the injury, Cannavaro said he was thinking of retiring from international play after this tournament. Not anymore.

"You're going to have to put up with me for another two years,'' Cannavaro said, indicating he will play through the 2010 World Cup.

"I still have a lot of desire to play. But I'm very disappointed because this is my last European Championship. I already played in two and we lost one in the final (in 2000), and the other one in Portugal went badly,'' said Cannavaro, recalling how Italy was eliminated in the first round four years ago.

Cannavaro has played 116 games for Italy, the most among active players.

He needs only 10 more appearances to break Paolo Maldini's record of 126 caps with the Azzurri.

"It sounds strange, but I've never thought about the record,'' Cannavaro said.

"I had the good fortune of winning a World Cup, and I don't think anything can top that as a player.''

'Heartbreaking'

The 34-year-old Cannavaro was instrumental in Italy's World Cup victory, earning the Golden Ball award based on his efforts at the tournament.

Uefa said his absence was sad for the championship and heartbreaking for the player.

"We feel sorry for such a big star or even a small star to miss the competition,'' said William Gaillard, spokesman for the European governing body of football.

"It's terrible for a player. A competition like the Euro is a high point in a career and to have to say to such a great player, 'No,' at the last minute, because of an injury is heartbreaking.''

With Alessandro Nesta retired from international play, Italy's other top central defenders are Marco Materazzi, Andrea Barzagli and Chiellini.

Right back Christian Panucci also has experience in the middle.

"Completely revising Italy to make up for Cannavaro's absence would be stupid,'' Donadoni said, adding that Panucci was only an "alternate option.''

"For two years we've had Barzagli and Materazzi and they've done well,'' the coach added.

"We'll evaluate their form, and then we'll decide.''