BISCOTTI

The Italians had referred to the potential conspiracy as ‘biscotti’. ‘Biscuit’ from the French term for ‘twice cooked’. ‘Biscuit’, for if Spain scored two, and allowed Croatia to score two, then whatever the Azzurri did against the Irish would not matter.

But in the end, the biscuit crumbled.

It was a tense final day in Group C at Euro 2012. Two from three were in contention to go through. Two games were being played at the same time. At two different venues. In two different stadiums.

Too tense to call.

Antonio Cassano calmed the tension for a while – at least from an Italian perspective. He nodded in Andrea Pirlo’s corner. Two assists in three games for Pirlo. Two goals in European Championships for Cassano. His first had come 8 years ago. A winner against Bulgaria on the final day of Group C, this time at Euro 2004. But then, it had not been enough. Then, the second concurrent game between Denmark and Sweden had ended 2-2. The scoreline that knocked them out. 2-2 between Spain and Croatia would knock them out this time as well. It was biscotti then. Could it be biscotti a second time?

Half time. 1-0 to Italy in Poznan. Spain and Croatia are still deadlocked in Gdansk. Only the second half remains. Only two halves of football to determine which two go through.

The second periods are still tense. In Poznan, the team in blue is still leading. In Gdansk, the team in blue is still keeping possession. Spain are in their change strip that is blue. Nothing has changed for them however in terms of dominance. But they have not yet scored. Then, a scare. Luka Modric with the outside of his right foot. Ivan Rakitic heads it straight at Iker Casillas. San Iker has kept them in it. Almost simultaneously, corner to Ireland in Poznan. The ball is floated in. Richard Dunne heads over. He thought he’d done it. He hadn’t.

Time is running out. The tension envelopes the two stadiums. The two sets of fans in both stadiums are biting their nails. As time is running out, biscotti looks less and less likely.

Then, a lifeline. In Poznan, Keith Andrews is shown two yellow cards. He is given his marching orders. As he walks off, everything happens.

Two minutes left in Gdansk. Cesc Fabregas has been on as a substitute. He lobs the ball over to Andres Iniesta. Iniesta takes two touches. One to kill it, the other to square it to Jesus Navas. Jesus Navas has also come on as a substitute. He is staring into an empty net. He also takes two touches of the ball. One to kill it, the other to bury it. Spain are virtually there. The two substitutes have made an impact.

Two minutes later, and over in Poznan, it is a corner to Italy. Pirlo takes. Mario Balotelli has also been on as a substitute. He is falling over. He holds onto John O’Shea. He manages to hook it in. The two of them fall. Mario rises to celebrate. He has made a statement. He wants to send out a verbal message. Before he can even utter two words, Leonardo Bonucci is upon him. He uses both hands to control him. One  to bring him close and calm him down, the other to silence him.

It was two goals in two minutes. In two different games. At two different venues.  Two corners in the one game. Two assists to Pirlo. Two strikers scoring. Two goals for Italy. Two substitutes for Spain. Two headed misses in both games. Two results that ensured that the two teams in blue on the night advance to the quarter finals.

Leaving two words in the mouths of the two sets of supporters.

Viva Espana!  Avanti Italia!

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