It’s strange how life works out sometimes. When the final whistle blew in Italy’s 1-1 draw with the USA in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup, 24 years since their last World Cup triumph, I turned to my brother and said “that’s it”. I didn’t mean the end of the game. No, I had decided with absolute certainty that the Azzurri would never lift the trophy again as long as I lived. A few short weeks later, exactly five years ago today, I was far and away the happiest I have ever been in my life to be so very wrong.
The first time I closely followed Italy in a World Cup was USA ’94. My despair was cavernous as I lay prostrate on the floor of my brother’s house, head buried under my arms for an apparent eternity after Italy’s defeat on penalties to Brazil in the final. But I was spoilt rotten from the beginning. Making and almost winning World Cup and Euro finals was from that point until today what I expected and demanded. Of course it’s not that easy. In fact, the FIFA World Cup is arguably the most difficult thing to win in the world of team sport. I learned this the hard way.
Two deeply disappointing 2-1 defeats to Russia and the Czech Republic respectively ensured we failed to qualify for the knockout rounds of Euro ‘96. At the 1998 World Cup, a quarter final loss, again on penalties, to eventual winners France. Euro 2000 and a loss in the final to a French golden goal after a French equaliser in what felt like the 25th minute of injury time. In 2002 we were absolutely robbed by referees and officials hell bent on the progression of our round of 16 opponents, co-hosts South Korea. Then a woeful performance in Euro 2004 – we only had ourselves to blame for that one.
Surely living and breathing every moment of those twelve years of misery has earned me the right to still be celebrating 2006 five years later. So please indulge me as I relive what are for me, the top five memories of Italy’s 2006 World Cup.
5. De Rossi’s elbow – Not a happy memory but a definitive one for me because it was probably the moment in our second pool game vs USA when I hit rock bottom. It’s moments like this that make overcoming them so much sweeter.
4. THAT penalty vs Australia in the round of 16. I watched this game in a bar on Auckland’s waterfront that was packed to the rafters with Australians. Anyone beating Australia at anything is always a happy moment for my New Zealand half. The nature of the victory meant that my Italian half had to get out FAST at the end of the game in order to stay in one piece! Australians still bleat that it wasn’t a fair penalty. I think this photograph conclusively shows otherwise:
3. The head-butt that shook the world. If it was possible to measure the total noise level of the planet Earth, I would wager that this was its quietest moment for at least a century. I’m sure every single man, woman and child around the globe who saw it was stunned into silence.
2. The semi-final vs Germany. This was in many ways my final. As luck would have it, I was flat on my back with the flu for the actual final. The amazing scenes in Berlin, the moment I had been waiting twelve long years to savour, was just a little bit lost on me as I lay on the floor at home coughing, spluttering and sneezing at the TV from under a duvet. But for the remarkable extra time victory over Germany, I was where it all happens – Gina’s Restaurant in Auckland where most of the Italian community go to watch the World Cup. At full time after extra time about 100 crazy, delirious with joy, shirtless Italians (including this one) ran out onto the street waving flags and singing Inno Nazionale. We stopped traffic.
1. What else? Grosso slotting the last penalty. CAMPIONI DEL MONDO!!!
Lastly, it can’t be in the top five because technically it didn’t happen at the World Cup but gee whiz who wouldn’t want to live to see this again one day?
Drool… Next time I have GOT to be there in person. Hopefully I’ll see you there!
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.