Italians over the hill and far away
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!