Eurozone: Fratelli d’Italia, l’Italia s’è desta
Brothers of Italy, Italy has awoken. What more is there to say about a fantastic Italian campaign? Italy have marched to the final, defying critics and defying off field ‘shenanigans’. My last article was one of warning to Germany to not underestimate the Italian threat, but how could I possibly re-iterate this warning to the Spanish? Cesc Fabregas has supposedly warned his Spanish team mates of such a threat. But seriously Cesc? This is the final. Following the unstoppable Italian march, the Spanish need no warning that the Italians are certainly awake and capable of disruption.
Mario Balotelli has hit the form that had been projected on him from a young age, a progression that has been recognized and appreciated by his manager Cesare Prandelli. He has launched darting run after darting run and in the semi-final, like a Man City youth player, these darts found their target and Mario had ‘the best evening of his life’. He has solved what all had acknowledged was a lack of goalscoring threat coming into the tournament. Mario plays in-front of a solid tortoise, mostly imported from Turin; the title-winning side at Juventus. This winning mentality of the present has combined with an Italian winning mentality in tournaments of the past to mean that this evening may be remembered in Italy long into the future.
And then there is Pirlo. Only perhaps known to obsessive fans of Italian football before, amidst other names as Gattuso, Maldini, Del Piero and Totti. Rather than becoming as fossilised as such names, the name of Pirlo has come alive amongst football households across Europe and the world. The best player in the tournament. Book groups, film clubs, mothering groups, AA meetings… all have conversed on the genius of Andrea Pirlo and how he has set this tournament alight. And that’s just in England. We await upon a bronze statue of the man in every Italian piazza. San Andrea the Magnificent.
Unrestricted by injuries and uninhibited by the threat of picking them up, the warriors of the Italian defence will be solid as ever against the Spanish. Chiellini is a fantastic player and Balzaretti and Barzagli have more than shown their worth. It would not surprise me if a certain east Manchester club will start sniffing around this well-constructed Italian fort. Though prone to the odd spillage, they play infront of a world-class keeper and commander in Gianluigi Buffon. Adopting Chelsea-esque ‘body-on-the-line’ tactics in the final third, but with far more to offer up the pitch, this structure has worked perfectly in waking the Italians, helping them cross the mountains and hit the ground running in eastern Europe.
It has been a pleasure supporting the Italians through this tournament for Fresh Air Football. Even before the tournament started the Italian camp was by far the most entertaining. Although no one was paying attention to their footballing capabilities, the antics of Man City’s Balotelli, the inclusion of West Ham’s flop Diamanti, the corruption stories that deprived Zenit’s Domenico Criscito, all provided entertainment for the outsider. Yet it was from this position that the Italians launched their assault. The formula of Cesare Prandelli, a likeable, composed tactician, working with the passionate, outspoken Gianluigi Buffon in orchestrating the onslaught has been perfectly balanced. Italy have successfully navigated what has been a challenging march to Kiev.
Prandelli has done an excellent job, both tactically and in managing more than a couple of egos. I fully expect to see him commanding one of Europe’s major battalions soon and making his name as one of the worlds great managers. He may have the crossbar in Warsaw to thank, but facing his Italian side is a Spanish team who are perhaps looking their weakest since 2006. They are still a fantastic unit with talented individuals. Yet, many including Arsene Wenger, have suggested they have lost their sparkle, they have no attacking threat and they are looking suspect at the back. In beating what many had suggested was a stronger German side, the Italians have easily what it takes to shut down this Spanish side. Unlike Romulus and Remus, neither Spain or Italy are underdogs. The Spanish will not simply leap over the well constructed Italian wall but, like Romulus to Remus, the Italians have the capacity to slay the Spanish in their attempt to do so.
I’m sure there are few Italian puns I have yet to exhaust but from a tangled strand of spaghetti this Italian campaign has straightened itself out into a Grand Canal and alas they have made it. So here we are at the final, awake and ready, and who would bet against the Azzurri to put out the Spanish flames and pick up the greatest award in international football, at least until Rio 2014.