- Posted: 11:38 AM, November 14, 2011
More than a thousand people turned out to see the stars practice Sunday in the small southern town of Rizziconi, an area once under the fierce control of the 'Ndrangheta gangsters, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported.
The 'Ndrangheta syndicate, still among the world's largest cocaine traffickers, is regarded in Italy as an even greater threat than the neighboring Sicilian mafia.
While the site now boasts impressive facilities after being reclaimed by the state in 2003, the players were left in no doubt to its brutal past.
Among many stories recalling the fear of living at the mercy of criminals was the tragic testimony of the parents of a boy, Domenico Gabriele, who was killed by a stray bullet while playing soccer.
The national squad's session ahead of Tuesday's friendly game against Uruguay in Rome was organized by the anti-Mafia group Libera to encourage those in the region still traumatized by crime that it was safe to play freely again.
Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon said it was important that the locals should not hide from their past.
"What [we] took to the pitch were the values of freedom," he said. "I think the key to fighting crime in these situations is to know the history of each town or city, in order to manage to stir the conscience."