Thursday, July 27, 2006

One degree of separation

My recent trip to Italy - to receive a little medal from my family's home town of Barga - was given a bit of added pleasure by the fact that I got my hands on the World Cup. Well, almost.

One of my fellow award recipients was none other than Enrico Castellacci, the Italian team doctor and probably the most famous set of baffi in football. I couldn't miss the chance to get my picture taken with a man who only a couple of weeks earlier held the Coppa del Mondo. Of course, he said meeting me was right up there with winning the tournament...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Quelle surprise!

Zinedine Zidane gives a headbutt, three-match ban. Marco Materazzi, receives a headbutt, two-match ban. This is how justice works at FIFA. I honestly think if they could come up with a way to strip Italy of the World Cup they would. The whole organisation needs to be looked at.

What message does this send out to players? Dish out a few insults or clobber an opponent, it's all the same. If it's going to start a grass roots weeding out of all players who verbally provoke opponents then fair enough. But I reckon your average game would finish about three against three.

It smacks more of something they felt they had to do to justify giving Zidane the Golden Ball thing. Anyway, I'm off to Italy for a few days to fume. Catch up with you all soon!

Monday, July 17, 2006

A week is a long time

Last Monday I was still recovering from my World Cup winning hangover, basking in the glory of the Azzurri's triumph. In the space of seven hectic days the world of Italian football has been turned on its head. In all the time I've followed the game I can't think of more dramatic times. I need to get a few things straight in my head.

1) Marcello Lippi has stood down as Italy boss (can't say I blame him, only way was down).

2) Roberto Donadoni has been appointed the new CT (exciting, if risky appointment).

3) Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi have been called before FIFA (quite right in the first instance, a nonsense in the second. No amount of provocation justifies Zizou's act).

4) Juve, Lazio and Fiorentina have been banished to Serie B. Juve stripped of two titles and Milan dumped down Serie A with a 15 point penalty to start the next campaign.

A couple of thoughts spring to mind on the Calciopoli thing. Firstly, from a purely Viola standpoint, it hardly seems fair that Fiorentina were hit just about as hard as Juve when it was the Bianconeri who allegedly ran the whole system - often to the Viola's detriment.

Secondly, it makes Serie B a hell of tough league next season. My estimate puts it at about 50 scudetti between teams in that division. Juve (27), Genoa (9), Bologna (7), Napoli (2), Fiorentina (2), Lazio (2) and Verona (1). Have I missed anyone out?

Finally, will Inter finally be able to win the league or will they manage to find somebody to beat them again? Probably Roma...

And even more finally, I hope there is not a mass exodus of our best players out of Italy. It would be truly awful to see some of our World Cup heroes end up playing in England.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Grazie Paul Newman!

So, Marcello is gone. It really shouldn't surprise anyone because how could he cap what has been a glorious couple of years? A record of just two defeats in 29 games (one of them a friendly) is completely unprecedented. The only way was down with a number of our elder statesmen likely to step down.

It's a shame that external matters seem to have played a part once again. Criticism of his managerial qualities (he could only succeed at Juve and that kind of thing) as well as the allegations against his agent son put him under unfair pressure. One thing is for sure, he goes straight into the hall of all-time greats.

I always liked his straight-talking, ballsy attitude in interviews. He was willing to disagree strongly with pundits, show a sense of humour and try to ignore their attempts to stir up scandal. He brought together a team which, let's be honest, few thought could actually win the World Cup and took off the ultimate prize. For that reason alone he stands among the greats.

Addio, Marcello. Enjoy all the cigars you like and a great summer in Viareggio. You deserve your place beside Bearzot and Pozzo...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Campioni del mondo!

Yes, read that title. Read it again. Then read it once more. Then go, make the coffee, put your feet up and read it again. Then phone up all your friends and tell them. It is true, Italy are world champions.

It was a rollercoaster, especially last night. A goal down so soon, back on terms through big Marco, then a few good chances before falling a bit onto the backfoot. A goal disallowed, more penalty shouts and then THAT headbutt. And finally, victory ... on penalties! Five great penalties. That Trez missed his only made it sweeter but our boys kept their cool marvellously well.

I will blog some more about this in due course, no doubt. Indeed, I may blog about nothing else for the next four years. Savour it, tifosi, all the heartache has been worthwhile...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Il sogno continua...

Fratelli e sorelle d'Italia, it has taken me a couple of days to come to terms with what I witnessed on Tuesday night. Right up there with Brazil 1982, West Germany 1970 and maybe the backs to the wall Holland win in Euro 2000 came THAT amazing display. Even as I type, I struggle to come up with words to do it justice.

Cannavaro maintained his claim to player of the tournament, Buffon was impeccable as always, even Materazzi won my heart. Nobody in the world can have better attacking full-backs than Zambrotta and Grosso who played fantastically. The midfield was strong in the first half and when it faded a bit, Lippi made the right changes. Gattuso gave everything, Perrotta had one great chance, Pirlo kept us ticking, Totti is improving with every game, Toni worked tirelessly. Only Camoranesi still frustrated me but, on such a night, let's not pick flaws.

And what about the goals? The first one was pure Marco Tardelli stuff, even Grosso's celebration brought the same goose-bump feeling. And Del P was like the Del P of his boyhood brilliance as he sped the length of the pitch to ping the ball home. Lovely set up by Gila too.

There's one more hurdle to overcome, the French. No doubt they are a strong side with plenty of individuals worthy of respect but we've built up such a momentum we'll be hard to stop now. If we can keep up the team spirit, concentration and quality we have shown this far then, as Il Messaggero apparently proclaimed, "Not even the Martians can beat us!".

Here's hoping ragazzi. Keep the faith, no doubts and go for it!

Monday, July 03, 2006

We're in business

Come what may, the Azzurri have brought back a bit of respect to Italian football over the past few weeks. If they pull off a win against Germany, the job would be even better. Still, to get to the World Cup semi-final is back to the business end of football's biggest competition which is somewhere we have not been for 12 years.

The win over Ukraine was impressive with Toni among the goals, Totti pulling the strings and that defence truly breathtaking (especially the Juve connection Cannavaro, Buffon and Zambrotta). What you've got to like about this team is its spirit - typified by Gattuso but carried on by everyone in the side. All the old debates like Baggio/Zola, Totti/Del Piero and, for those with longer memories Rivera/Mazzola have been put to one side. There is no outstanding superstar which has made everyone seem happy to work for each other.

There are any number of omens you can take into account. We've not, so far, ever lost a major tie to Germany. The last time four European teams were in the semi-finals was 1982. Paolo Rossi went four games without a goal (like Toni) before ending up top scorer. And so on, and so on.

The biggest factor is that the boys are playing well, improving every game and look desperate to do well. They have earned the right to think they can go all the way and win it. Now wouldn't that be sweet?