But the casual fan/glory hunter has found a new bandwagon for this tournament: Germany. It makes sense too. Germany have been everything that Spain should’ve been: gloriously attacking, aggressive and ruthless with panache. They are the prime examples of a young, exuberant and supremely talented team realising what they are capable of. They have not been as reactive as they were two years, but their ability to entertain hasn’t suffered due to this slight change in ideology.
The third team – whom Germany takes on tonight (and are expected to stomp over) – hasn’t been garnering the sort of attention the two favorites have. Cesare Prandelli’s Italy are a flawed team but they are the only team in the competition who can say with confidence, that every one of their matches has been entertaining. And one would think that of the three remaining teams in the competition, they should be the ones that appeal to the Pakistani fan more than any other.
Just look at the evidence: the Azzurri went through a sharp decline over the second half of the last decade, culminating in the disgrace of summer 2010. Since then, now under new administration, they have slowly climbed back up the international ladder and restored the pride associated with the national team. They have done this by employing methods that are alien to their history. Devoid of what were once their most prized and distinctive assets (world class defenders), they have changed their philosophy, and have challenged – and surprised – the best in the world. The team – which has defied most expectations – is one which has a curious inventory: a couple of old dogs in the middle of their swansongs; a bunch of failed wunderkinds who are finally showing a bit of consistency; a handful of journeymen footballers who wouldn’t have ever expected to make the national team; and one eccentric prodigy who is capable of anything.
During this time, their country has gone through an economic and political meltdown, and even the sport has not escaped the financial and moral corruption that is rife in society. Allegations of match-fixing weakened the team, but they have soldiered on in their attempts to restore their reputations. Surely if anyone can have sympathy and fraternity with the Italians, it has to be the Pakistani cricket fan.
But even beyond that, there is much to like about them. There is, of course, the joy of watching Gig Buffon and Andrea Pirlo roll back the years. Pirlo’s performance in the quarter-final versus England was reminiscent of Zidane against Brazil six years ago: a veteran showing the kids – and the world – who the boss is. Then there are the likes of Cassano and Montolivo – anointed successors to Baggio and Totti, respectively, in their youth.
To see them, finally, achieve what their talent deserved makes one believe in the power of second chances. Then there are Marchisio and Bonucci who could never be considered wonderkids; but they have shown how desire and ambition can trump talent, or the lack of it. But more than anyone else, this is Cesare Prandelli’s team. Here’s a man who was willing to opt out of the tournament that he has prepared two years (if not his whole lifetime) for, if it meant cleaning up the game in his country. His words and his actions – such as making the players train on land confiscated from the Mafia – have been designed to restore honour and dignity to the national team. And what the world has seen from Italy over the past three weeks shows that he may well have succeeded in that aim.
He has also moved away from the caution that had dogged Italy from 2006 to 2010; his acceptance of mavericks has been unique in modern football. He’s got players amongst whom he has got one who burnt his house down with fireworks, another who admitted that if he wasn’t a footballer he’d be a criminal, one who claims to have slept with 600 to 700 women, and a man who changed a Serie A season as an 18-year old. And that’s just his regular front two.
The subs are a whole different kettle of fish altogether. Tactical innovation and diversity, a propensity for mavericks, a last hurrah of a great generation, underdogs in their remaining matches and the football equivalent of the our cricket team: supporting Italy should be the obvious decision to make for a Pakistani. But with no guarantees of glory or consistency, perhaps we might be better off restricting our heartbreaks to one sport. Forza Italia? No. Viva Espana!
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.