Stephan El Shaarawy was called up for the first time in over two years on Friday as Italy prepare for next week’s Euro 2024 qualifier against England in turmoil after Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo were sent home amid a probe for alleged gambling offences.
On Thursday, investigators showed up at the Italian team’s training centre at Coverciano, near Florence, to notify Tonali and Zaniolo that they were under investigation.
Accompanied by former Italy goalkeeping icon Gianluigi Buffon, now head of the Italian delegation, the pair were questioned for two hours and then left the training centre.
“It was a difficult night,” Italy coach Luciano Spalletti told Sky Sport.
“There is a lot of bitterness within the team, because everyone has respect for these two players. Justice must do its job.”
Tonali, who moved from AC Milan to Newcastle this summer, and Zaniolo, who joined Aston Villa on loan from Galatasaray in August, are alleged to have used illegal sports betting platforms.
“Regardless of the nature of the investigative order, given that in this situation the two players are not in the right condition to face the commitments of the coming days, the federation has decided… to allow them to return to their respective clubs,” the FIGC said.
Tonali became the most expensive Italian footballer when Newcastle bought him from AC Milan in the summer for a reported £60 million ($73 million), and the 23-year-old has played 15 times for his country.
Zaniolo, 24, who also has 15 international caps, was once the rising young star of Italian football but two serious knee injuries and a falling out with Jose Mourinho at Roma led to him being shipped off to Galatasaray in January.
The pair will miss Italy’s Euro 2024 qualifying matches with Malta on Saturday and England on Tuesday at Wembley, the scene of the Azzurri’s Euro 2020 final triumph over the hosts on penalties.
The European champions are second in Group C behind England but level on seven points with Ukraine and North Macedonia.
Italy captain Gianluigi Donnarumma said the team had experienced “difficult hours” after Tonali and Zaniolo’s departures.
“We’re close to Zaniolo and Tonali from a human and sporting point of view,” said the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper.
“It hurts our hearts to lose two lads who can bring us a lot. We are creating a good group, but we remain close to them.”
El Shaarawy joined his teammates on Friday morning, stepping in as Juventus forward Federico Chiesa also left Tuscany with a thigh injury.
The former AC Milan and Shanghai Shenhua player has scored six goals in 29 appearances for Italy, but has not played since March 2021.
The 30-year-old has been relegated to a substitute’s role at Roma since Belgian international Romelu Lukaku’s arrival on loan from Chelsea, and has failed to score in eight matches in all competitions.
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