Paul Marcuccitti


 
Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Che vergogna



    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 worth celebrating!

    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 Socceroos.

    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 made/taken.

    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 joking!

    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 fury.

    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 republished here.

    "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'". 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 Vieri.

    Yes, long balls! That despised tactic that cultured Italian teams are supposedly above.

    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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