Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Italy is looking forward to Giovanni Trapattoni’s return... so the old grouch can finally be put in his place.
He may be a popular figure to the misty-eyed who remember him lording over the domestic game with Juventus when colour television was a mere dream to every household, before leading Inter to a rare title success around the time when the mullet was all the rage.
However, his old-school, ultra-defensive approach brought only heartache to the national side. Fans dreaded the side taking the lead, knowing that once in front it was only a matter of time before each and every one of the defenders on the bench was warming up.
Dumped out of the 2002 World Cup by South Korea – leaving aside some debatable refereeing, Italy should have out of sight by half-time – the cantankerous old fogey didn’t even have the good grace to stand down.
"How very dare you?!"
Only failure to progress out of the group stages at Euro 2004 led to the country waking up to the fact that Il Trap was out of touch and out of step with the modern game.
His successor Marcello Lippi brought that home very clearly when his 2006 World Cup team banished the myth that Italy could only play catenaccio, as they launched quick and fluid attacks from all areas of the pitch.
No doubt Trap will be encircling the wagons in Bari on Wednesday, where the Azzurri will have to pound away at the Irish defence for 30-odd minutes or so before making a breakthrough.
Once the boys in green, or probably white, have been breached it should be plain sailing all the way to South Africa.
There is no denying that this is the pivotal tie in the group, but at the same time it’s a group that was never going to cause any heart flutters – not with Montenegro, Bulgaria et al providing the opposition.
However, you must never underestimate the opposition, hence the game being played in the southern stronghold of Bari where a good proportion of football followers support Juventus, Inter or Milan but never get to see their heroes close up.
A near-full house is therefore expected at the San Nicola stadium and the local economy will no doubt receive a welcome boost from a rare tourist influx.
Italy played Ireland’s Celtic cousins Scotland in the same venue during qualification for Euro 2008 and that all went swimmingly on the home front, while by all accounts the visiting supporters revelled in the local hospitality.
It should be the same case on Wednesday where Italy will be too well-versed in the modern ways to fall into any old trap set out by the man from another era.
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Ireland seems prime to pull the upset here. They should have beaten Bulgaria, but were embarrassed at home by an OG. So they will be focused. A defensive struggle could favor Ireland. All the pressure will be on the Azzurri, and they will be quite flaccid after beating Montenegro. But, then again, I am a pessimist. In bocca al lupo!
Not quite put in his place!Could've won this one!
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