Ital­ians over the hill and far away

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Classifieds -

TIME waits for no nation in world foot­ball.

That’s what Italy found out as they were left cry­ing into their Chi­anti at the end of the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing hour-and-a-half of World Cup 2010 so far.

A 3-2 de­feat at the hands of lit­tle Slo­vakia merely served to con­firm what the Ital­ian me­dia and mil­lions of foot­ball watch­ers al­ready knew – their team are over the hill.

Sturdy de­fend­ing has long been the sta­ple diet of Ital­ian foot­ball, but in this com­pe­ti­tion Cannavaro and co. have been closer to slap­stick.

Slo­vakian sub­sti­tute Kamil Kop­unek speed­ing past five play­ers un­chal­lenged to fire the fi­nal nail into their cof­fin summed it up.

We even had the beau­ti­ful irony of Italy play­ers – who have spent most of their ca­reers rolling around in mock agony – urg­ing the Slo­vaks to get to their feet quickly as the life ebbed away from their de­fence.

Italy’s fail­ure means both the cham­pi­ons and run­ners-up from four years ago have made in­glo­ri­ous ex­its.

While the French were masters of their own mis­er­able down­fall, there is noth­ing so sin­is­ter about the Az- zuri’s aw­ful con­tri­bu­tion.

The ba­sic truth is that they have per­formed ap­pallingly. This was one tour­na­ment too many for an age­ing squad and an an­cient coach.

It was the first time Italy have fallen at the group stage since 1974 and it will prob­a­bly be the only time in his­tory that one of the great foot­balling coun­tries will find their name be­low that of New Zealand.

But that’s just the prob­lem - the Ital­ian game doesn’t pos­sess the class of days gone by.

Don’t be fooled by the Cham­pi­ons League tri­umph of In­ter Mi­lan (an Ital­ian team with­out any first-choice Ital­ian play­ers) ei­ther. That was more to do with a ge­nius of a man­ager and get­ting lucky with dodgy de­ci­sions against Chelsea than the per­son­nel on the pitch.

Let’s face it, Rafa Ben­itez will prob­a­bly win Serie A next sea­son. Nuff said.

WE can fight it all we like, but Franz Beck­en­bauer has got it right on two fronts.

The Kaiser’s claims that Eng­land have been ‘stupid’ to only stum­ble through from Group C in sec­ond place and that their clash against the old en­emy should be hap­pen­ing much fur­ther down the line are both spot-on.

Should we fall short on Sun­day af­ter­noon, we will look back to those dis­mal draws against the United States and Al­ge­ria with dis­may. Should we de­liver the goods, we won’t give a damn and can rightly cel­e­brate an over­due tri­umph over an­other ma­jor foot­balling nation.

“WE are proud and dis­ap­pointed at the same time,” said New Zealand coach Ricki Her­bert af­ter they bowed out with their heads held high. So they should be, on both counts. Watch­ing a nation of sup­posed no­bod­ies per­form with courage and class has been one of the high­lights of the com­pe­ti­tion.

See­ing them go home de­spite be­ing un­beaten is a cry­ing shame.

KEISUKE Honda and Ya­suhito Endo, I salute you!

Two wor­thy con­tenders for goal of the tour­na­ment car­ried Ja­pan past Den­mark and into the last 16.

Mean­while Nick­las Bendt­ner thinks he is one of the best strik­ers in the world. Yeah right!

But I don’t need to watch their games any­more as I’m be­ing kept up to date by text mes­sage.

Hunt­ing­don man­ager Al Leni­han - a mem­ber of our team of ex­pert pan­elists - nom­i­nated Ja­pan as his dark horses in our pre-tour­na­ment grilling.

And he is not about to let any­one for­get about it!

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