CHIAVARI, Italy. 1990 was the first year I lived in Italy. It was also the year Italy hosted the 14th FIFA World Cup. I wasn’t a huge soccer fan back then, I’d only been in Italy for a couple of weeks and the fever hadn’t hit me yet. Looking back on those days now I realize it was more than just the game I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand anything, not the Italians, and certainly not the Genovese.
|Italian Team Captain Gianluigi Buffon|
Italy didn’t win the Cup that year, West Germany did. It was their third World Cup and they won it by defeating the Argentineans 1-0 in the final. It turned out to be a rather monumental event as that was last time a team from a divided Germany played in a tournament. Germany was reunified later the same year.
But what I remember most about that summer was the outrage of the Italians at the amount of destruction the soccer tourists were causing. With drunken brawls breaking out just about every night, bar windows being smashed, trash bins tipped over and that greatest faux pas of them all, drunken fans vomiting in taxis. The Genovese were marching on City Hall in protest, that is when they could pull themselves away from the TV screens.
|Giorgio Chellini, Andrea Pirlo and the Boys in Blue|
The 1990 World Cup was one of the most watched events in television history. It was very exciting. Neighbors who hadn’t spoken to each other for years were gathering together in front of television sets to root for the Italian team. It was the agony and the ecstasy rolled into one and the spotlight was on Italy. Even the BBC was opening their World Cup coverage with romantic images of Renaissance art, classic ballerinas and Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma”.
“Nessun Dorma” indeed. The words translate to “No One Sleeps” and that was part of the problem. No one was sleeping, or able to sleep, at least not in Genoa. And as an estimated 26.7 million viewers world-wide looked on, Genoa, the Superba, the Queen of the Riviera was being presented to the world as a dirty, ungovernable, out-of-control mess. The Genovese were furious. Get those people out of our city. What a disgrace.
To make matters worse Italy’s crack soccer team was not doing well, not by Italian standards, not by anyone’s standards. And as the modern day gladiators banged heads and leaped like gazelles, Italy, along with England, lost the semi-finals in penalty shootouts. Fortunately the Italian team saved face by winning that match 2-1. Small recompense.
But win or lose, it was magic, they were magic. They were the cream of the crop, the top of the heap. Just the sound of their names, Schillachi, Zenga, Maldini, Biaggio, Mancini, Carnevale, is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the roughest longshoreman in the port and every kid who sat up nights obsessing over his Panini World Cup Sticker Album.
And so it starts – this time with bad news and more bad news. The Italian team is led by Tuscan Gianluigi Buffon, one of the best goal keepers of all time. Even the mythical Pele’ has tipped his hat to Buffon, calling him one of the greatest living footballers in the world. But he’s on the bench for the game tonight, the one against England, so as of this writing things are not looking good. Stepping in will be Salvatore Sirigu, a Sardinian from Nuoro who the French pay 3 million plus euros a year to play for their Paris Saint-Germain club. And there’s more.
Not everyone on the team is as experienced as they might be/should be/could be. Parma team member Antonio Cassano, knicknamed “il gioiello di Vecchia Bari” the Jewel of Old Bari, has never played in a World Cup, and there are question marks next to the name of Palermo born A.C. Milan player, Mario Balotelli. Plus Italy is not the favorite, although some would agree that is when they are the most dangerous.
"We are not the best," said team coach Cesare Prandelli in a recent interview with the BBC, "but we can beat the best if we play our best." Bite your tongue, Prandelli.
Woke to good news. Italy won yesterday’s match against England, 2 – 1. Then I found this video on youtube that introduces you to the Italian team. Even if you are not a soccer fan, just watching these guys will put a lump in your throat, or at the very least give you reason to applaud Italian mammas for having some of the most beautiful babies on this here planet. FORZA ITALIA.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NofTWmHkDg8 The Italians