Straight from the dark heart of Italy
What better way for Fabio Cannavaro to celebrate becoming Italy’s all-time leading appearance holder than with a goalless draw.
The perfect result to top a perfect evening in Switzerland for the Azzurri captain and now proud holder of 127 caps – overtaking his former long-term defensive partner Paolo Maldini.
At almost 36, and newly returned to Juventus where he received the sort of welcome from a sizable section of the fans which suggested that one should stick to the old adage “never go back,” the veteran will be puffing out his chest for one last moment of glory come next summer.
Italy should have booked their passage to South Africa before they face the Republic of Ireland in October, and certainly the display against the Swiss was much-more in the style of the Italy of old than the debacle of the Confederations Cup.
Domenico Criscito and Claudio Marchisio were assured in their debuts, and Marcello Lippi’s quiet revolution at dipping into the U21 set-up will hopefully pay dividends over the next nine months or so.
However, one thing is certain, Cannavaro has as much chance of missing – injuries aside of course – next summer’s World Cup jamboree than Antonio Cassano receiving a dinner invite from Lippi.
There have been whispered grumblings that the likeable Neapolitan should maybe do the right thing and step down from the international stage before his powers wane completely.
But we may as well forget any notions of retirement for now.
The reason is that few men can lay claim to greatness: they are set apart by their drive and ambition to see them through any challenge.
They lead where others follow and history ensures that their glory will always remain undiminished.
OK, we are only talking about a footballer not a statesman or military leader, but Italian’s will never forget Cannavaro’s never-say-die, backs-to-the-wall spirit in Germany in 2006.
And of course that crowning moment when he hoisted the World Cup trophy high into the Berlin night.
A nation will not deny one of their most favoured sons a chance at sporting immortality, even if history dictates otherwise against back-to-back success.
Why is he once more in the Juve fold, if not to hone a defensive partnership with Giorgio Chiellini? Mr. Lippi demanded it and so it has come to pass.
Cannavaro has always been something of a favoured child in the international set-up since making his debut against Northern Ireland back in 1997.
He was once part of the most handsome, flop-haired defensive triumvirate alongside Maldini and Alessandro Nesta from World Cup 1998 through to 2002, before being handed the captain’s armband for the nazionale.
On-field disappointments – including the Euro 2000 final defeat to France and basically being dumped by Inter - went hand-in-hand with what seemed an off-field campaign to discredit il capitano.
A video of him shot the day before the 1999 UEFA Cup final hooked up to a drip being fed Neoton – an unbanned integrator of vitamins used to relieve tiredness after a cardiac arrest, but used by Italian teams through the 90s – somehow found its way on to a RAI broadcast in 2005.
There were calls from some sections for him to stand-down, and then a year later Cannavaro was lifting the league title in a Juventus shirt as the Luciano Moggi scandal was about to break.
Once again questions were raised – even finding their way into a parliamentary discussion – over whether he was fit to lead the country in Germany.
So, as with recent trials and tribulations, a steely resolve has lurked behind that angelic smile, leaving the naysayers long-faced.
And no doubt that trademark chest will be pushed out even further over the next year or so.
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Cannavaro is an absolutely superb player. He deserves to be spoken about in the same breath as Desailly, Koeman and Maldini. As for 2010, unquestionably he should be in Italy's starting XI. There is not a defender in the country who reads the game as well as he does, he is consistently inpenetrable and has proved himself a great leader time and time again.
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