Monday, December 13, 2010

Traditionally, Italy is a slow starter and nobody expected great first match from the Azzuri. And against Haiti even less – why, Italy just had to show up and Haiti will lose. When Italy went to their dressing room losing 0-1 after the first half there was no pundit to be seen… mighty Italy was not mighty at all, but sluggish and increasingly frustrated team. The great names were just empty shells. The strongest defense in the world was shattered by unknown striker. It was a disaster already. Yet, class and experience helped in the second half – Italy won 3-1, but convinced nobody.
Luigi Riva shoots, looking deadly. Photography lies.
No matter how bad a favourite plays, people always expect traditional giants to pull themselves together in the next match. Same with Brazil, same with West Germany, same with Italy… Argentina was of the same ilk too, and the second round robin match was no joke. Certainly Italy will get back to their senses and their game –which it did, to a point. Having equally slow, mean and defensive minded opponent, Italy played their best match… achieving a 1-1 tie. Frankly, it was not a memorable meeting and both teams were severely criticized.
Benetti surrounded by Argentines, with Heredia in front of him.
The view of Italy as a world champion was crumbling rapidly, yet expectations for ‘the next game’ persisted. Bad or typicly Italian football? Last match with Poland and who the hell were the Poles? And Italy needing just a tie, their specialty.
Not to dissapoint the learnt crowd, Italy played precisely for a tie – carefull, disciplined, terribly boring, and generally clueless performance, which almost achieved the desired result: Italy lost only 1-2. Almost a tie, but really a loss. The nakedness of the King was finally seen by all.
Unknown Musial fearlessly fighting for the ball with fearsome Chinaglia.
After the final whistle Gorgon, Szymanowski, Musial, Lato and the rest of team Poland were triumphant. The Italian supporters were crying.
Italy went home early, alas without the World Cup. They finished third in their round robin group, surprising everybody. They were smply bad – not a single player impressed, whether big star or newcomer. Crowds went to meet the returning team – and thanked them by pelting the disgraced ‘world champions’ with tomatoes. Emotions aside, the collapse of Italy was really the final collapse of 1960s football, of old notions of the game. Football went ahead when Italy stucked in outdated tactics, sadly belonging to era already gone. But Italian blindness to reality continued: a very convenient scapegoat was quickly discovered – Chinaglia, the Fascist, was blamed for everything. What his political convictions had to do with the miserly Italian game escapes rational explaination, but the vitriol was too much for the player and Chinaglia went to play for New York Cosmos: the first major European star to join the NASL circus, and practically the only big name player who was not at retiring age.