Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It doesn’t take much for Italians to get into a pickle over the French.
And so it was no surprise to find the old rivals demonised at every turn following Thierry Henry’s helping hand.
You would have thought that Italian honour had been scorned - maybe it had in part, what with Giovanni Trapattoni in charge of the hard done-by Irish.
It is pretty easy to paint a picture of what would have happened if Italy had been in Ireland’s position: match abandoned.
Of course, it has been headline news ever since the final whistle in Paris and each of the three main sports papers – La Gazzetta dello Sport, Corriere dello Sport and Tuttosport - have given ample page coverage to la mano di Dio (the hand of God).
A few wags in pro-Inter cafes in Milan couldn’t resist asking: “What do you expect from someone who played for Juventus?”
It has also been an excuse - if one is ever needed - for TV channels to air the Zinedine Zidane head-butt on Marco Mattezari again, and then follow it up with Fabio Cannavaro lifting the World Cup in Berlin.
Cannavaro was soon on hand to take up an old and bitter theme on this side of the Alps: the constant French criticism of Italian football.
“They have always been giving us lessons on how football should be played,” gloated the Azzurri captain.
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t much fair play from them on Wednesday and they are no longer in a position to lecture us.”
Corriere dello Sport dug up an old Raymond Domenech interview on the FIFA website where Italy’s bête noir claimed that “winning was not the only thing that counted.”
“Yes, Monsieur Domenech do you still have the same opinion?” was the pay-off in their editorial.
Borrowing a misquote from Casablanca, Gazzetta’s Friday headline ran: “Let’s play it again.”
The non-sporting dailies also got in on the act as the morale high-ground was reclaimed for the Italian nation on behalf of all the downtrodden and exploited.
The vilifying of the French seems a bit rich coming from a press corps that has been on Marcello Lippi’s back for the last few months, despite Italy qualifying for South Africa with a game to spare.
Whipping up the pro-Cassano lobby and treating the World Cup-winning coach like a lame-duck president; speculating on who will be the new man in charge come next September is no way to treat Lippi.
He was jeered at Cesena – a club he coached back in the late ‘80s – during the friendly with Sweden and apparently there were those in the stands ‘encouraging’ spectators to chant “Cassano for Italy.”
The Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa even got in on the act; demanding that the Samp star return to the international setup.
As they say, Italy is a country of 60 million football coaches.
However, this new low in relations between the la Nazionale and il popolo could just be the incentive for a repeat of 2006.
What the whole of Italy will be hoping for is that they meet the old enemy along the way.
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Well why not, the Italians have been accused of cheating on the last two World Cups they have won and that for some reason FIFA has given them the World Cup because in the years that they won the World Cup (82 & 2006) their league was embroiled in match-fixing controversies.
What Zidane did was unfortunate because he was the best player in the 2006 World Cup but what Italy did fielding players like Pirlo, Totti, Del Piero & Gattuso together is a formula that will be emulated by many teams.
Henry should be suspended from the first 3 group matches. What's fair is fair. Returning to Zidane though, I remember the referee in that match, the Argentinean Horacio Elizondo didn't actually see the infamous headbutt and in fact I think the linesman caught it the Jumbotron. The problem to me is that if we start overusing technology, trying to find mistakes on the pitch by referees --- you'll slow the game down and make it into a four hour contest, allowing commercials to creep in eventually. Football is fine the way it is, 90 minute match, you don't spend 4 hrs watching a game the way you would an NFL game and its still a sport controlled by humans not some "Hal-9000" computer --- the way it is in Tennis.
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