My prediction at the start of Euro 2016 was that this was Germany’s tournament to lose – unless they come up against Italy!
And whaddaya know… They are coming up against Italy. Whether or not it’s still Gremany’s tournament to lose will be seriously put to the test on Sunday morning and it’s my strong suspicion that whoever emerges from this game as the winner, will be in the box seat to lift a big old piece of sterling silver called the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
When I made my initial prediction, it wasn’t born from parochialism or arrogance. It was grounded in history. There are certain cast iron unbreakable laws when it comes to Italy and big tournament football.
The ten commandments of the Italian national football team are:
- Thou shalt not win games that aren’t important.
- Thou shalt start tournaments slowly.
- Thou shalt not play well when wearing white shirts.
- Thou shalt play defensively.
- Thou shalt not care how pretty thy football is.
- Thou shalt troll thy supporters by sitting deeper than Captain Nemo in the last twenty minutes of every game.
- Thou shalt not be given proper credit when thy win.
- Thou shalt be at thy best when everyone writes thee off.
- Thou shalt play in a World Cup final every 12 years.
- Thou shalt not lose to the Germans in a World Cup or Euro.
It’s a well-known fact that every rule in life has an exception – including the rule that every rule has an exception. In this case, that exception is the tenth commandment above. Germany. Has. Never. Beaten. Italy. In. A. Major. Tournament. It has simply never happened.
Italy’s relationship with Germany is simply this: They are our biggest rivals. We are their bogey team.
Don’t ask me why they are our biggest rivals – more so than France or Spain or anyone else – I don’t have a good explanation for that. What I do have an explanation for though, is why they never beat us when it counts. It’s simply because their style of football suits our game – and that will probably always be the case whether they eventually beat us or not.
I remain confident. So far, we have kept a clean sheet in every game that counts (for us) at this tournament. To put it another way, the all Juventus defence of Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini and Buffon are yet to concede a goal. They are all sitting on yellow cards though so even if we do win this game, there isn’t much chance they will all play against whoever is next (probably France).
Our only suspension for this game is Thiago Motta which earned a big cheer at Gina’s when the underrated man got his second yellow of the tournament against Spain! What we didn’t know then was that Daniele De Rossi’s injury would rule him out against Germany so that leaves pickings a bit slim for his replacement.
I’m sure Conte will have a plan worked out though, and after watching his every move in the tournament so far I have every confidence that he knows what he’s doing even when for the life of me I can’t work it out!
Of course there’s a first time for everything, and it might be on Sunday morning that chickens finally come home to roost, but I seriously hope not if for no other reason that it’s fun to wind the Germans up about their record against us and I’d hate to lose those bragging rights! “You almost never beat us” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “you never beat us”…
The truth is, while of course I’d love to see my team to lift the trophy, this game is in some ways my Euro 2016 final. If we win this, I’m a certain degree of happy no matter what happens next. Lose it and regardless of the good work to date, I’ll remember these Euros as a sad Italian failure.
I’ll leave you with the unofficial Italian team anthem. First used by Club Brugge fans in October 2003, brought back to Italy by Roma fans after my favourite club played the Belgians in the UEFA Cup in February 2006, and then adopted by gli Azzurri for our march to World Cup triumph that year…
As for this tournament, four nations’ armies down. Three to go?
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/