As fears of Italy possibly being the next casualty of Europe’s financial crisis grows, a few of her countrymen took to the field as they faced an unpredictable but fearless Croatian side.
Yet again, the Italians have failed their people, this time from a footballing perspective, to those eagerly waiting for an opportunity to shout out at the world,
“We can still play beautiful football and win. We are the four-time World Cup Champions.”
Occasionally, in football as in other phases of life, one perceives what one wants to perceive and there is no embarrassment in that.
The two countries that are separated only by the Adriatic Sea entered today’s contest with a sense of realizing the path to glory. The Italians were in a comfortable position coming into the game, as they had managed to draw with the toughest opponent in the Group. However, they had never defeated Croatia in five meetings since Croatia declared independence in 1991. This stat would suggest that it would not be an easy walk through the park for them.
Questions were on whether the unpredictable but super Mario Balotelli, who was instantly substituted after missing a chance, that an 10-year-old could have converted, would feature in Cesare Prandelli’s line-up today.
Moreover, had expected him to miss out on the match based on his comments he had made prior to the start of the tournament where he threatened to kill anyone who abused him during the tournament. The move would not be in line to protect Balotelli from any racial taunts but to protect the fans and the Croats from a potential murderer.
One cannot be quite sure on what we were going to get from him. But he did start and the excellent side of Balotelli showed up for this game. He did not bring about any of his random outbursts and neither was he involved in any animated dialogues. Most importantly, Balotelli managed to produce few decent openings all throughout the game, and did what he does best – that is to be a constant nuisance for the Croatian defenders.
Also on display were two of the worlds best midfield generals, Andrea Pirlo and Luka Modric. Both were individually brilliant in each halves. It was Pirlo who came up stronger in the 1st, with a beautifully taken free kick. He might be 33 but proved today that he still can produce for Italy. Italians looked on the front foot for majority of the 1st half.
The second half was about the Croats. Their opponents looked like they were all out of options, like the Dutch against Germany. The reinvigorated Croatians moved forward in numbers, time and time again, with the midfielders running the show.
This rise and fall of Italy on the pitch was expected to a certain extent keeping in mind the off-pitch problems the team is facing. It always seems like they are cursed with bad omen in football. The Italians have become habituated to stories of match fixing, betting, and corruption. And just when they thought it was all over, on the day of their opening fixture against Spain, few members of the national team were reported to be involved in a betting scandal, one of them being first choice keeper – Gigi Buffon.
So again the faithful of Italian football live with this loss, contemplating their support for their beloved every day, hoping for their team to make it to the quarters. But for now, we just witnessed the spectacular failure of the Italians.