Those that do not learn from history are destined to repeat its mistakes. Italian football has been gripped by scandal before and the events of the last couple of weeks have been the culmination of a story that has been bubbling under for some months now, but those writing Italy off on account of the distraction that the recent match-fixing allegations may bring with them should, perhaps, proceed with caution. In 1980 the Italian game was gripped by the Totonero scandal, which led to points deductions or relegation for seven clubs and bans for twenty players and two club presidents. Two years later, they won the tournament with Paolo Rossi, one of those banned two years earlier, ending the tournament as its top scorer. In 2006, the Italian game was again engulfed in crisis as the ramifications of the Calciopoli scandal became apparent. That very summer, they won the World Cup again. Italian supporters, therefore, might even be forgiven wondering whether the one positive that they can take from this dismal story is the potential omen that comes with it.
The History: Italy have, considering their record in the World Cup, a surprisingly patchy record in the European Championships. Between the beginning of the tournament in 1960 and its expansion to take in sixteen nations in 1996, they only qualified for the finals of the competition on three occasions, winning it on home turf in 1968, finishing in fourth place when hosting it again in 1980 and reaching the semi-finals in 1988. Since the last expansion of the tournament, though, they have been ever-presents in the finals, although they still haven’t won the competition since 1968. They were beaten by a French golden goal in 2000, but other than that their record hasn’t been great, getting knocked out in the group stages in 1996 and 2004, and only getting as far as the quarter-finals four years ago.
The Team: There is, of course, bags of experience in the Italian national team, with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon having won one hundred and fourteen caps for his country and Andrea Pirlo having win eighty-three. Many eyes, however, will be on the younger members of the squad. Will Mario Ballotelli be selected and, if so, will be see the very best of him or the very maddest? With Giuseppe Rossi injured, it is likely that the coach Cesare Prandelli will be left with little option but to pair Balotelli up with Antonio Cassano of Milan, but with all five of the attacking players selected for this tournament having scored just twenty goals between them for Italy between them throughout their combined international careers, there are obvious questions marks over whether this team will be able to break down opposition that may well be set up to try and neuter them.
The Coach: Cesare Prandelli, it could be argued, is an idealist. Upon his appointment into the job in 2010, he stated that his aim was to make the Italian national team attractive, attacking and likable. Prandellis club career took in seven clubs, with his most significant achievements being promotions from Serie B with Verona and Venezia in 1999 and 2001 respectively. It was his five years at Fiorentina, however, that sealed his reputation, taking the club from relegation strugglers to qualifiers for the Champions League in 2006 before the Calciopoli scandal docked the club fifteen points. He did manage to get the team in this competition in 2009, and the following season – his last before taking the job that he holds today – got Fiorentina to the last sixteen of the competition before losing on away goals to Bayern Munich.
The Kit: The simple nature of national team kits may leave designers scratching their heads over how they can continue to prise money from consumers, but the good people of Puma have adorned the front of it with a glossy series of chevrons that cover the whole of its front. This years change kit, white with a blue band across its chest, has been designed with considerably greater taste.
The Prospects: The suggestion has been made elsewhere that Prandellis aim is to turn Italy into a a facsimile of Spain. If this is true, they’ll get the opportunity to see what sort of progess they have been making quickly enough as they face the current world and European champions in their opening match. It could, theoretically, be good to get this match out of the way first, but defeat against Spain would leave Italy playing catch-up in their final two group matches against Ireland and Croatia and winning these two matches is far from certain. A quick glance at the teams in the group may lead us to believe that Spain and Italy are nailed on to get through to the quarter-finals of the competition, but Italy could provide one of the surprise eliminations of the first round of this competition.
The National Anthem: “Il Canto degli Italiani” (The Song of the Italians) – The Italian national anthem is one of the better-known national songs, thanks in no small part to their sporting success and that of their most successful international competitor, Ferrari. The words were written in 1847 by Goffredo Mameli, a 20-year old student, with the music added 2 months later by Michele Novaro. It reflects a turbulent time for Italy, at that stage still a conglomerate of City States, and its struggle for unification. Il Canto degli Italiani became a popular song throughout this process, although upon unification in 1861, Marcia Reale was adopted as the official national anthem until the country became a republic in June 1946. Oddly, considering its considerable fame, Il Canto (it is also often referred to by its first line, Fratelli d’Italia) was not officially rubber stamped as the national anthem of Italy until 2005. Noted for its length, this is in part due to the meandering operatic tendencies of the music, with only the first verse (sung twice) followed by the chorus conventionally sung. Most importantly, it ends with a rasping cry of “Si!”, an innovation I would like to see more countries adopt. Let’s face it, as national anthems go, this really is a belter.
The British Press Will Say: “They always triumph in the face of adversity” (should they do well in the competition), “They’ll be waiting at the airport for them with rotten fruit!” (should they get knocked out in the first round). And don’t forget: if you’re from the British press, Mario Ballotelli isn’t merely a lavishly gifted but occasional temperamental footballer, rather he is some sort of extravagantly-coiffured cross between Pagliacci and Diego Maradona, if you will. Don’t expect a great deal of wisdom from too many television pundits on the subject of anybody other than Balotelli – he’s the only player in the squad that plays in the Premier League and the other two selected that don’t play in Serie A both play for Paris St Germain.
Don’t forget that with Euro 2012 approaching you can download the Twohundredpercent Euro 2012 spreadsheet here (for Excel 2007), whilst a version that will be compatible with older versions of Excel is available here.
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