I’ve never been to Italy. I have, however, from a young age formed a view on Italian fashion that was largely shaped by the film “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. In said film, the central characters, the Griswold family (with Chevy Chase as the patriarch) travel across Europe, getting into a variety of “scrapes”, one of which involves them losing their luggage on the way to Italy. Their insurance, of course, covers the cost of this lost luggage, so they go to a number of boutiques in Rome (cue a montage of cut-aways of them in clothes of varying degrees of awfulness) before coming out looking like the 1980s Euro-fashion dream. Well, more or less half-way between robots and pimps, to be more accurate. I have, at various points throughout my adult life, wondered whether Italians actually dressed like that, and I’m a little clearer on it now. Upon seeing Gianluigi Buffon’s black bandana close up this evening, I’m starting to think that, yes, there are probably some Italians that do dress like the Griswolds did in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. What’s the deal with that bandana, then? He looks as if he’s planning to go on “Stars In Their Eyes” as Kevin Rowlands from Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
But I digress. Italy vs Romania was another splendid match from a tournament which, after a slow start, is starting to turn into an absolute belter. The irony was rich. Italy played very well against the Netherlands earlier in the week, and received a considerable amount of sympathy for being on the wrong end of a 3-0 reversal in a match that they had made a full contribution to. There can be no such praise tonight. This was the other Italy playing this evening. The Italy with a long and ignoble history of contriving to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. Romania, by contrast, looked like a team that had been completely energised by containing France without breaking into much of a sweat. This evening they were comfortably the better of the two teams, and were unlucky to not win the match. As it is, Italy are still holding on by their fingernails, knowing that they have to beat France in their final match to stand any chance of getting through to the quarter-finals.
The single most refreshing thing so far about Euro 2008 is that attacking play has been rewarded, and negativity has, by and large, not been enough to grind out results. Romania came out this evening with the knowledge that this Italian team is beatable, and they went for it. The deadlock was broken ten minutes into the second half, when Zambrotta woefully under-hit a header back to Buffon, allowing Adrian Mutu to nip in and lift the ball over the goalkeeper. The lead lasted barely a minute – Christian Panucci touched in Chielli’s header to level things up, and we were back to square one again. Surprisingly, Romania reacted to this in about the most positive way that they could. It would have been unsurprising if they had folded after the psychological damage of conceding a goal so soon after scoring, but they instead took an attitude of, “We’ve done it before, we can do it again”, and poured forward, dominating much of the final third of the match. The decisive moment came seven minutes from time. Panucci hauled Daniel Niculae at a corner, and the referee awarded a penalty. A brave and correct decision for the second day in a row. Adrian Mutu stepped up, but his kick wasn’t a good one. Plenty of power, but only a foot to one side of the centre of the goal – Buffon had guessed the right way, and flicked out an arm to save.
His save was enough to keep Italy in the competition, for now at least. They will, however, have to beat France in the final match in order to get through to the quarter-finals and their was very little in their performance to to suggest that they will be able to manage this. By contrast, Romania took four points from six from the Dutch in qualifying, and will fancy their chances of bagging a place in the quarter-finals alongside a side that may, by the time that the match comes around, hav already qualified for the next round. If Romania were to beat the Netherlands, the Italy vs France match would become one of the highest-profile wooden spoon matches of all time.