I take it all back.
I’ve said some not-so-nice things about the Italian team and their fans over the past couple weeks:
For the avoidance of doubt, this Italian team was complete crap. Before minute 75 (when our guys completely ran out of gas), their offense consisted entirely of lobbing the ball towards Toni and Toni trying to fall down. I remain shocked the game didnâ€™t end on a dubious penalty in the 89th minute. Theyâ€™ll likely advance, but they will beat no one of consequence. Thereâ€™s just no there there. June 19, 2006
That Italian team was a disgrace. Their supporters should be ashamed. June 17, 2006
And, this little charmer:
I will never root for an Italian team again. They were a disgrace, and I will cheer their eventual defeat at this tournament. June 21, 2006
So, to summarize, I was completely wrong about the Azzurri: they’ve beaten the most consequential team in the tournament, the hosts, and looked like anything but a disgrace in so doing. Admittedly, much of the above vitriol came out of the USA-Italia match in K-Town. I didn’t see Italy play Ghana, and missed their game against the Czech Republic as well. In retrospect, it appears that the USA game was the Italians’ worst effort of the tournament. They played without style or imagination, and seemed to do a lot of falling down. And I was steamed — I thought the USA deserved better that night. Also, this filthy Italian guy spat his blood at me.
So I was pissed.
And today, I take it all back. Not only do I appreciate how well this team has played, but I will be proud to root for them in the final. My reasons:
(1) The scandal back home: this deserves more words than I’m going to give it, but the fact that these guys have played this well in the face of the IMPENDING COLLAPSE OF ITALIAN FOOTBALL which will FORCE MOST OF THESE PLAYERS TO CHANGE TEAMS IN THE NEXT WEEK (Fire sale at Juve! Everything must go!) AND SEE FRIENDS SUFFER SERIOUS PENALTIES cannot be discounted. These guys had plenty of built-in excuses for trotting out a lousy performance (certainly a bunch more excuses than Brazil), and yet they’ve been focused in every match. Maybe the scandal back home was what they needed to come together as a team (insert appropriate cliche here).
(2) They have played against stereotypes: yes yes, everyone loves to give Italy grief for playing boring, defensive football. This team hasn’t skipped the defensive part — Fabio Cannavaro and Gigi Buffon have been spectacular, and the team has only conceded an own-goal against the US — while also managing to score a bunch of goals (11 total). Only Germany (13) have scored more — and they’ve had an extra game to do it. Even cooler: the 11 goals have come from 10 different players. They’ve managed to do this with a dodgy striker (LucaToni hasn’t been very impressive) and a hobbled playmaker (Totti). Against Germany, right when you expected Lippi to bring on defenders to try to lock the game down, he kept introducing strikers. Catenaccio? Not so much.
(3) We drew with them: a minor point for sure, but if the Azzurri win, the USA will have been the only team to get a result against them. Pitiful, I know, but it’s something.
(4) They did us all a favor and beat the hosts: the one thing I kept saying when I got back from the World Cup two weeks ago was how remarkable the home-field advantage actually is. After sampling the atmosphere at the tournament, it didn’t surprise me one bit that four European teams made the semits, or that a non-European team hasn’t won the tournament in Europe since 1958. France’s win in 1998 made a lot more sense. And, most of all, I was convinced it was going to be next to impossible to beat Germany — if only because of the power of the crowds. So when the Italian team hung on for 120 minutes against the hosts and had the courage to not only keep playing but win the game in the 118th minute, I was stunned. That took more than talent — that took courage and guts. The Azzurri had every opportunity to fold in that game, in the tournament’s loudest stadium (where Germany had never lost), but they kept fighting. They earned that game with every ounce of their souls. And that’s pretty compelling.
(5) The cool White Stripes thing: Daaaa-da-DA-da-dah-duuuuuh-duh. Daaaa-da-DA-da-dah-duuuuuh-duh. Seriously, I can’t get enough.
In conclusion, I’m pulling for the Azzurri. I am a hater no more. I gots no beef with France, but this Italian team has charmed me.