Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
Read earlier columns
21 June 2002. It's the winter solstice in my part of the world - the
shortest day. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a day to forget.
Why? Not because of the winter weather (I actually like it). But two
terrible things happened. The hard drive on my laptop computer appears to
have crashed (I suspect it was the victim of a bumpy domestic flight I'd
been on in the morning) and with it went a nearly finished column revisiting
Europe's second tier teams. Then in the afternoon (Australian time),
England, a country I really wanted to see win the World Cup, lost to Brazil
- a good but beatable team.
OK, I can hear it already. Many of you might think these are two things
But life goes on (and, hey, the World Cup finals are happening!) and while
there's nothing wrong with being very disappointed about football results,
it shouldn't be something that causes prolonged grief. I know a thing or two
about supporting teams that don't win things. I have been obsessed with
Nottingham Forest, a football club on the other side of the world, since I
was a little boy. I remember Forest playing in Cup finals and I remember
great victories over Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, etc. Now it's a
club that recently finished 16th in the division below the Premier League
and one that has to sell talented young players to survive. The team I
support in Australian Rules football, Geelong, has not won a Premiership
since the early 1960s. Since 1989, "the Cats" have reached the Grand Final
(a play-off that decides the Premiership) four times... and lost each one.
It's best that I don't even start talking about the heartbreak of following
The worst thing about 21 June was that it came at the end of a particularly
depressing week for other reasons. And that depression was provided by the
nation of my parents' birth - Italy.
Now it would come as news to very few of you but just in case you didn't
know, Italians are passionate people. And football is one of their great
passions - the greatest for many. I have been to Italy twice as an adult
and, no matter where you are, you will find people with an opinion on the
game. They don't attend league matches in their droves - the hooligan
element is ever present - but millions regularly watch on television.
I can understand that Italians are devastated by the elimination of their
beloved team but some of the reactions since Italy lost to the Koreans have,
quite frankly, been embarrassing.
There is no doubt that the "azzurri" have been on the wrong end of some poor
refereeing decisions. But in no way does that suggest that they necessarily
deserved to get through to the quarter-finals. And, more importantly, it
does not justify the pathetic statements and actions that have since been
Let's start with the biggest goose of the lot, Luciano Gaucci, chairman of
Serie A club, Perugia. It wasn't enough for him to state, less than 24 hours
after the Korea-Italy match, that Ahn Jung-Hwan (scorer of Korea's winning
goal) would "never set foot in Perugia again". He (Gaucci) went on to make
the most of his 15 minutes of fame: "He (Ahn Jung-Hwan) was a phenomenon
only when he played against Italy. I am a nationalist and I regard such
behaviour not only as an affront to Italian pride but also an offence to a
country which two years ago opened its doors to him. I have no intention of
paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian soccer."
Well, signor Gaucci, you may be a nationalist but you're also malato di
testa (sick in the head).
Signor Gaucci's comments are all the more disappointing when you consider
that the university in Perugia has, for many years, had a reputation for
admitting foreign students. If I was involved in the running of that
university, or if I was the boss of another Italian club, I'd be quite
annoyed. Non-Italian players might now think twice the next time a Serie A
club pursues them.
Can you imagine one of the Bundesliga clubs sacking an American player if he
scored a goal that eliminated the Germans? I certainly can't. In fact, when
I first heard the Perugia story on radio, I thought the announcer was
The most perceptive reaction to the fiasco came from Asian football chief,
Peter "who the hell cares about Perugia?" Velappan. He was almost certainly
correct to say that, "Perugia is a club that only sought to commercially
exploit East Asian players by signing them on and not giving them ample
opportunities to develop."
More revealingly, Korea's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, claimed that "(Ahn) was
not very fit when he was playing (for Perugia). He got fit here and then got
his efficiency." Perhaps that suggests that Perugia should take a second
look at its coaching staff rather than dump a player whose sole crime was
scoring against the Italian team. (Though in another twist, Perugia's coach
has admitted that he'd like Ahn to stay because he considers him to be, "a
player with enormous potential".)
The outbreak of Italian lunacy is not confined to Perugia. As Velappan sums
up, "As of now, the whole world is laughing at the behaviour of Perugia, the
Italians and their conspiracy theory to argue against their defeat."
You got that right. Except some of us aren't laughing - rather we're
covering our faces with our hands.
The conspiracy theories have been fuelled by Italian politicians,
administrators, players and the nation's media. How about this classic from
Franco Frattini, a minister in the Italian government no less, "It seemed
like they got around a table and decided in advance to throw us out". Given
the sordid reputation of Italian politics, I suppose signor Frattini has
participated in meetings of the type he has described.
What about this beauty from Raffaele Ranucci, the head of the Italian
delegation to the World Cup, "Korea is a powerful country. It's clear that
they would have done something." Hmmm... the last time I checked, South
Korea hadn't managed to score too many invitations to meetings of the G-7.
Francesco Totti, the man whose dismissal has sparked much of the outrage,
was also quick to lower his colours, "It was a scandal. The truth is he (the
referee) had his mind set against us - this was a desired elimination. By
who? I don't know - there are things greater than me but the feeling is that
they wanted us out." Do you want my opinion, Frankie? My feeling is that if
you didn't have such a reputation for diving you would have been given the
benefit of the doubt. And one thing's for sure - if you hadn't raised your
arm to appeal for a penalty when the Korean defender, quite clearly, played
the ball, you would have finished the match on the pitch.
By the way, why are the Italians so obsessed with Totti's dismissal? Going
down to 10 men is hardly the end of the world. The main basis for complaint
would surely have been Damiano Tommasi's disallowed goal (for offside). Now,
Tommasi's goal was ruled out by one of the referee's assistants (you know
referees never really overrule), yet poor Byron Moreno, certainly not the
worst official at the World Cup finals, is copping most of this irrational
Even businesses have gone mad. Panini, an Italian publisher, has decided to
withdraw over two million collectible playing cards which feature members of
the Italian team. This explanation from Umberto Leone, a director of Panini,
"We were left indignant after the South Korea game which went against the
image of clean football we have promoted for so long."
Image of clean football? You're kidding. A partial explanation of what has
been going on in Italy (in the last few days) is that football there has,
for years, been marred by suspected and proven cases of match fixing.
(Remember why Paolo Rossi was out of football for so long before he came
back to be Italy's hero in the 1982 edition?) And as I've already mentioned,
Italian politicians also carry a deserved reputation for scandal and
corruption. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Italians are consumed by
the idea that corruption is so ubiquitous.
Now I'd be lying if I said that I reckon FIFA (and particularly Herr
Blatter) are squeaky clean. But I would have thought that, if anything,
they're desperately hoping that the Koreans don't make it to the Final ...
in Yokohama, Japan.
The most surprising reaction has come from Italy's media. (Well, I'm
surprised!) Because usually the press gets stuck into the team. "La Gazzetta
dello Sport", which I often read and normally respect, came out with "Italy
counts for nothing in places where they decide results and put together
million dollar deals ... Shame on you gentlemen of FIFA and your dirty
games." Some of the adjectives used to describe Referee Moreno are best not
"Corriere della Sera" was no better "Italy has been thrown out of a dirty
World Cup where referees and linesmen are used as hitmen ... No other team
in the entire history of the World Cup has suffered so many injustices."
Now I hear that RAI, a national Italian broadcaster, is exploring legal
action against FIFA. RAI wants "reimbursement for financial damages" as it
stands to lose revenue from Italy's early exit. (Oh, my bleeding heart.)
Will you all please grow up!
I wonder if some of these Italians, who like to celebrate the fact that they
have won three World Cups (never mind that two were during the period of
Mussolini's despicable Fascist government), are aware of the fact that at
least one "compliant" referee officiated in the 1934 tournament in Italy.
Guess who benefited?
Other countries seem more capable of being gracious under similar
circumstances. Earlier, the Belgians had reason for complaint after their
loss to Brazil. With the score at 0-0, Marc Wilmots had a perfectly good
goal disallowed. Here's what he had to say, "It was a goal, there wasn't a
foul ... I asked the referee and he said he had seen the pictures at
halftime and that there hadn't been a foul, but it was too late. But I don't
hold it against him, that's life, that's football. He has to react quickly
... it's a shame. It's the World Cup, but that can happen in the Champions
League, or anywhere."
You know, the Belgians could have scored a big upset here. Had the
Brazilians gone 1-0 down, who knows if they would have come back into it?
The Belgian manager, Robert Waseige, was similarly philosophical, "I think
the match could have ended with a big surprise as far the result is
concerned. We all thought the goal was valid ... that (decision) changed the
course of the match. But that's football."
Bravo Belgium. And, while I'm at it, bravo Spain. The Spaniards have far
more reason (than Italy) to feel aggrieved by poor refereeing decisions
(against Korea) and, while they're definitely upset, they haven't gone
bonkers to the extent the Italians have - not even close.
The tragedy of this Italian rage is that it masks something that I had
realised as early as Italy's game against Croatia. Something that was
confirmed when the azzurri struggled against Mexico - they simply weren't
good enough to win the World Cup.
I watched every Italian match with my father and on more than one occasion
he noted that "il centrocampo non c'é". Literally this translates to "the
midfield is non existent".
Now, when my father whinges about a team he's following, that's usually what
he says. But on this occasion, it was impossible to disagree. I found myself
regularly calling for the introduction of Gennaro Gattuso while the
playmakers struggled. And there were periods in Italy's matches where the
only threat to the opposition seemed to be long balls played to Christian
Yes, long balls! That despised tactic that cultured Italian teams are
Worse still was another unthinkable - inadequacies in Italy's defence. Once
upon a time, the centre of the Italian defence could have been filled with
distinction by at least a dozen Serie A stoppers. But if Nesta and/or
Cannavaro were missing, Italy looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at the
back. And how about that almighty Christian Panucci error which handed South
Korea its late equaliser?
What we're seeing at the moment is breathtaking arrogance. How else can you
describe this insistence that Italy's failure is due to conspiracy? Get over
it guys - you weren't good enough. And if you'd got past Korea, someone else
would have done you.
Anyway, you might have beaten the Koreans if your main striker thought his
right foot was for something more than standing on - he might have found the
back of the net from a position where missing appeared to be more difficult
than scoring. And despite your negative tactics, you might even have hung on
for a 1-0 win if it wasn't for a howler committed by a member of a
supposedly flawless defence. But it would have just prolonged the illusion
that you were potential World Champions. You weren't. Quit blaming others.
I have had a lot of people commiserate with me since the Italians'
elimination. I too was disappointed to see them go as early as they did. But
over the ensuing days, I've found myself feeling a lot less sympathetic as
this sorry aftermath drags on.
Che vergogna. What a shame.
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