Few understand the complications that go with being a tifosi.
On the one hand, we are not many. Actually, I am yet to meet anyone who supports Gli Azzurri as much as I do. This means that whenever there is success, I am the last one laughing. Just as it was in 2006. When it’s you against the world, the win feels that much sweeter.’
On the other hand, defeat means that I am the only one being laughed at. And when it’s you against the world, that leaves a mightily bitter taste in the mouth.
Those are the contrasting feelings that I have experienced at Euro 2012 thus far. In one game, Italy upstaged their illustrious opponents to earn a draw. It doesn’t get more illustrious than Spain – European and World champions. But the Italians were all gladiators. Fighting to the end, and showing the world that the old stereotype of Italian dullness and defence, was no more.
Then to our bogey team, Croatia. Since their independence in 1991, they have not lost to La Nazionale in any competitive match. And they weren’t willing to do so this time either. They battled hard and thoroughly deserved the draw. Now, Italia looked ordinary. Now there were weaknesses in their system. Now, Italy were no longer as great a side.
Now, Italy won’t go as far in the tournament.
The contrast however, is real.
The Italy that lined up against Spain was not the best side that could line up. But it was the best at that moment in time. In context, Spain’s lack of width meant that the 3-5-2 used was not at threat from the wings. And Vicente Del Bosque’s decision not to include a striker meant that the compressed area of the pitch was the midfield. And with 5 in there, Italy were happy to let it be so.
But that was not the case against Croatia. Croatia used width, and pumped ball after ball from wide areas into the penalty area. It was thus no surprise that when Croatia eventually scored, it was from a cross, Mario Mandzukic controlling an Ivan Strinic cross, and blasting past Gigi Buffon.
It was the curse of Croatia. But furthermore, it was the curse of the second game.
Ever since the World Cup in 2002, Italy hasn’t won its second game in a major competition. In 2002, it was a 2-1 loss to Croatia. At Euro 2004, it was 1-1 with Sweden. Even the glorious 2006 World Cup campaign produced a 1-1 draw with the United States in the second game. Moving on to Euro 2008 and it was 1-1 with Romania. The Confederations Cup of 2009 saw a 1-0 loss to Egypt. And in South Africa 2010, New Zealand managed to hold Italy to a 1-1 draw.
Now Croatia has held Italy to a 1-1 draw.
Just like the previous times, Italy go into the final game with questions needing answers. Will they emulate the spirit of 2006 where they went on to eventually win the World Cup? Or will they like two years ago succumb to pressure and suffer a defeat in their final game?