Thursday, June 24, 2010

Analisi a posteriori

In a World Cup highlighted by shocking result after shocking result, this perhaps tops them all: Italy are no more.

A 3-2 loss to Slovakia sends the Azzurri home a national disgrace. The headline of la Repubblica, one of Italy's national newspapers, read: "Mai così brutti"; never this ugly.

For the first time ever, the defending champion, the finalist, and the host nation all failed to reach the round of 16. At least the South Africans can hold their heads high and maintain some dignity, which can be said for neither Italy nor France.

At the very least - least being the operative word - Italy produced the most exciting second half - more like the second half of the second half - in the tournament.

Up until the last quarter of the match, I would have said that this team absolutely did not deserve to advance. And up until the last quarter of the match, that would have been 100% accurate. But the way they played the final 20 minutes was inspired and beautiful, albeit far too slow in arriving.

Two late goals, plus an effort just cleared off the line and a disallowed goal for offside; Italy produced more during that brief stretch than they did in the previous 250 or so minutes of play.

It was as if they kicked it into another gear that everyone knew they possessed, but for one reason or another didn't deem necessary to utilize, making their elimination all the more frustrating, infuriating, and embarrassing.

Andrea Pirlo was not fit for the first two matches, of course, but it does make me wonder what could have been, had the final configuration of the team been the initial one.

Fabio Quagliarella was brilliant, and did more in his one half of play than Vincenzo Iaquinta did in the entire tournament. Antonio Di Natale also provided a spark that proved too little too late, a Bic lighter that gets chucked into the woods upon its exhaustion of fuel.

Iaquinta, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta were either useless or invisible, and Daniele de Rossi did all he could to erase the good will of his goal against Paraguay; his terrible giveaway forced Italy to come from behind for a third consecutive match.

There will be bitching and moaning about Marcello Lippi making a bee-line for the locker room and not shaking the hand of the Slovakian head coach, and I can understand why, especially after what happened with France's Raymond Domenech after the South Africa match.

But the Slovaks' tactics after making it 3-1 was absolutely disgraceful. Lying on the pitch, wasting time, even attacking Italian players trying to retrieve the ball from the net and get on with the game; certainly not becoming of the team that outclassed the now-former world champions.

Time wasting is an unfortunate part of the late-match strategy of a team headed toward victory, and would no doubt have been employed if Italy were leading, but likely not to that extent.

Regardless, the outcome remains unchanged. An era of Calcio Italiano is over.

Injured keeper Gianluigi Buffon said it best: "Eliminazione meritata": deserved elimination.

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