Counting on Totti

Italy's most glamourous attacker, Francesco Totti, is a creator as well as a regular goalscorer. He is perhaps most dangerous playing behind the front two strikers, writes Andy Hampson.

Francesco Totti is one of the hottest talents in world football and is crucial to Italy's hopes at the World Cup in Germany. He is a skilful forward capable of playing in a number of attacking positions and is a creator as well as a regular goalscorer. He is perhaps most dangerous playing behind the front two strikers, where he has been deployed by Italian manager Marcello Lippi in the group matches in Germany. The country now hopes he can replicate some of his outstanding club performances, despite several months out injured before the start of the tournament, in the knock-out phase of the World Cup. Born and raised in Rome, Totti was taken on by Roma at the age of 13 and played for their youth teams. He was in the first team by 16, making his Serie `A' debut against Brescia in 1993. The club were initially keen to shield him from the limelight but he continued to earn rave reviews playing for Italy Under-18s. He was a regular member of the first-team squad in 1994-95 and won the UEFA Under-21 Championships with Italy in 1996.

Totti did not enjoy the best of relationships with two of Roma's managers, first Zdenek Zeman and then Fabio Capello, but he continued to make a name for himself, captaining them to the Serie `A' title in 2001. He scooped the young player of the year awards in 2000 and 2003, the latter season being his personal best in terms of goals (20).

He stayed with the club through a difficult 2004-05 season when they went through four coaches and ended up fighting off relegation. There were offers from elsewhere but he has pledged his allegiance to his hometown club and wants to achieve sporting immortality in the eternal city. Totti has become one of Italy's most recognisable faces but has so far failed to live up to expectations wearing the blue of Italy. He announced himself on the international stage at Euro 2000 and was man of the match in a losing cause in the final but the 2002 World Cup was a huge disappointment. He was controversially sent off as Italy were surprisingly beaten in the second round by South Korea.

Euro 2004 was even worse for him. Totti was at the centre of the most controversial incident of the tournament when he was banned for spitting. Totti hurled a mouthful of his worst into the face of Denmark's Christian Poulsen and was suspended for three matches. He did not play in the tournament again as Italy were eliminated before his return.

There was a danger he could have missed the 2006 World Cup after suffering a serious injury in February. Italy held its breath when Totti broke his leg in a Serie `A' match against Empoli. It was a complicated injury and required surgery and he did not play again until May. He recovered just in time to prove his fitness for the World Cup.

Totti's immense skill and good looks, combined with glamorous wife, make him the epitome of the football idol. He is married to the TV presenter and former model Llary Blasi. They married in 2005 in a ceremony broadcast live on Italian television. She was already pregnant with their son Christian at the time of the wedding. Totti said he was pleased his first-born was a boy, so he could continue "his legacy". For some reason the Tottis requested he be born underwater.

Totti, wearing his Italy shirt, appeared in an advertising campaign for the Fiat Stilo in 2002, his fee being a cool US$1.5 million. After his subsequent sending off against South Korea in the World Cup, the manufacturer may have wished they had chosen someone else.

FACTFILE Position: Attacking midfielder or forward Club: Roma DOB: September 27, 1976 Italy Caps: 52 Italy Goals: 8 Italy Debut: v Switzerland, October 1998

Moment to remember: Totti has made a trademark of his cheeky chip shot, which he used, despite the risk, to great effect in the Euro 2000 semifinal penalty shoot-out against Holland. Totti subtly clipped the ball past Edwin van der Sar to help the Italians to a 3-1 success.

Moment to forget: The spitting incident of Euro 2004.

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