(The summer of 2006: Italy – Australia)
Since everyone (except Gattuso) has been enjoying some between-holiday relaxation this weekend, there isn’t much to report in terms of news or noteworthy rumors. Subsequently, for today’s post, I’m going to take a step back and say some things that I’ve wanted to say for quite some time. Hopefully, I won’t make any enemies in the process. Here goes:
The Azzurri faithful remember the summer of 2006 fondly, and for good reason.
By way of an undeniable team effort, the members of the Nazionale overcame not only fierce competition in Germany, but also a scandal on their homefront, an attempted suicide by a former teammate, and nagging slander from the host nation’s media. Nonetheless, despite these obstacles, the Azzurri lifted calcio’s/soccer’s/football’s most highly coveted trophy, and thereby proved their merit to the world.
That is… they proved their merit to much – but not all – of the world. See… it seems that in many cases, when we – the tifosi – the fans – happily reminisce about the accomplishments of our Azzurri, someone – a friend, a co-worker, a commentator, a journalist, a coach – someone feels the need to rob us of our joy by proclaiming that Italy “did not deserve to win” the World Cup.
From the point of view of the Azzurri tifosi, few comments are more annoying, more insulting, or more blatantly erroneous. Of course Italy deserved to win, we explain patiently. Did they not see the inspired match against Ukraine? How about the heroic effort against Germany? Did they not see the pressure that Italy placed upon the French?
At this point, the nay-sayers seem to enjoy bringing up their counterpoint of choice – which they feel is clear evidence that the Azzurri got through not by merit, but by luck. What do they bring up? Of course, they bring up the match against Australia, and the now-famous penalty.
If the Azzurri followers have heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: Australia were robbed. Italy were lucky. Grosso took a dive. Australia would’ve won.
Well, in response, here’s what I say: Australia weren’t robbed, Italy were not lucky, Grosso fell over an exceedingly stupid Lucas Neill, and unless you have a DeLorean equipped with a Flux Capacitor, you can’t possibly know who would’ve won.
Don’t worry, I will substantiate those claims in this post, but first, it’s probably a good idea to actually watch the match highlights. It was, after all, a year and a half ago, and some could probably use a refresher course. Let’s take a look:
First off, let me say that I admire Australia’s team, Viduka and Bresciano in particular. Both played especially hard, although the entire squad really exerted themselves right up until the end of the match. That’s actually what I like most about the Socceroos; they’re forever working, and (when they’re not playing Italy) I enjoy watching them.
(Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.)
Some claim that Australia deserved to win on June 26, 2006, and others will even contend that Australia were the better squad. To those who make such claims, I say this: Italy were playing a man down for half the match. If your 11 players can’t even manage a goal against a 10-man Azzurri squad, you’re not exactly building a strong “better squad” case, and sorry, but you sure as hell don’t deserve to win by any stretch of the imagination.
Speaking of the Azzurri being a man down, why is it that everyone questions the penalty, but nobody questions Marco Materazzi’s sending off? Take a look again at his tackle in the video posted above. (It’s 1 min. 19 sec. in.) Granted, it wasn’t the cleanest of tackles, but at the same token, it was not worthy of red. (Hell – he actually collided with Zambrotta for the most part.) Had Materazzi not been (wrongly) dismissed, who knows? A full-strength Italy may have put one or more in before the penalty!
That “what if” thought brings me to my next point: People talk as though Australia were sure to win the match, had the famous penalty not been awarded. In response, I’d like to ask these individuals the following question: How the hell did you get a time machine? In truth, there’s no telling what would’ve happened had Lucas Neill not gone to the ground in Grosso’s path. Italy may have won anyway.
Speaking of the penalty-prompting incident, the only question I have is why the hell Neill would go to the ground in a situation like that. I will admit that Grosso may have added a touch of drama to his fall on the way down, but there is no doubt in my mind that he made contact and actually fell over Lucas Neill, who (unbelievably) took to the ground where there was no need to do so. Take a look again at the video above. (It’s 2 min. 10 sec. in.) If I suddenly lay down in front of someone that’s running just as they’re practically on top of me, chances are, they’re going down. Sorry, but that’s the way it works. If you don’t want the person to fall, don’t lay the #*%& down in front of them! Honestly, if it makes Australia feel any better to have a scapegoat, they need look no further than Neill. The rules are simple – you don’t take someone down in the box. Neill did just that. A penalty is the result.
Alright. I ‘ve said what I had to say. Azzurri fans, feel free to direct people to this post, should they ever tell you that Italy “got lucky” or that Italy “didn’t deserve to win the World Cup.” If they don’t like what I have to say, or if they just don’t like listening to reason, have them take a look at these videos (which happen to be by someone else).
Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that Italy are rightful world champions: