Are Italians Good at Football?

By: Gianni Truvianni

The precise year eludes my memory but it is with certainty that I claim that it was sometime between the 1974 World Cup in Germany and the 1978 World Cup in Argentina that I decided to see what all the hullabaloo about football was when I decided to join my father in watching a match. It is not that I do not remember who was playing but I just did not think to ask as I was more concerned about learning how the game was played.

As for my father, whose name was also Gianni (who passed away this year) I knew him to be a great fan of football (calcio being what Italians call it) or the sport that I growing up in the US heard referred to as "soccer" as how many times had I seen him in my parents bedroom or living room watching a game with friends and relatives. I had observed how loud the action would get in the room though at the time I did not even know what the game was about. It happened on that day which I will never forget that on what was a rare occasion I caught my father watching a game on his lonesome.

I remember entering the room and started to watch the game and to be honest I could at first I did not get the point of the game. I saw some people kicking a round ball all over a field that had to goals; one on each side but I could not see what the objective of the game was. I naturally asked my father what was the aim of this sport to which he told me that the point was to put the ball in the goal and when one did so one got a point or a goal as they called it. Of course in his description of what I would later discover to be a great sport he did not exclude details like that only the two goalkeepers were allowed to use their arms or hands while the other players were not and what a corner kick, (calcio di angulo in Italian), off sides (fora di gioco) and foul were.

As these two teams who I did not even know played on while I continued watching this game for the first time I actually started wondering if it was at possible to put the ball in the net as I could see with the passing minutes that the ball had not even come close to going in either goal. After what must have been about ten minutes I asked my father "Does that actually happen? I mean the ball being put in goal? Have you ever seen that happen?". He at first did not see the reason of my question but then realized that the ball had not even come close to being put in the goal in what would have been called a "goal" however after laughing off my question he did tell me that goals were scored in football but this only happened an average of 3 or 2 times a game.

I don't remember much about this first game other then being bored as I did not even finish watching the game though for all intense purposes football had been introduced to me. I tried to watch some other games and eventually I went on to see goals being scored though again I did not think to ask what teams I was watching until one day I started thinking since my father was Italian which prompted me to ask "Is Italy good at football?". My father told me then with some pride that Italy was one of the best at this sport and that Italy had even won the World Championship on two occasions though he did not forget to mention this had been a long time ago in 1934 and 1938.

By then the year was 1977 during the later part and he told me that the following week Italy was playing a game against England which would determine which one of them would be playing in the upcoming World Cup which was due to take place in Argentina. This match between England and Italy was actually the first game I ever remember watching which he told me was one in which Italy did not need to win and could even afford the luxury of loosing by as much as two goals; of course he did tell me that if Italy were to loose by three then it would be England who would go on to the World Cup as Italy would be eliminated.

As the game got under way it did not take England long to score in the form of a header by a curly haired player by the name of Kevin Keegan making it one to zero for the English. My father naturally was pulling for Italy in this game while I was not really pulling for anybody specially since Italy did not start off wining and at that point I still did not know of the importance of the world cup in football.? This match played at "Wembley Stadium" would end up England 2 Italy 0, which meant that Italy qualified for the World Cup Argentina 78 while England was eliminated.

Italy had qualified but this meant very little to me at the time since they had not won. As for the period that followed between then and the World Cup I would go on to see Italy play another match against Spain which again they lost 2 to 1 in Spain though this being a friendly as my father told me did not mean all that much. However it was in the time leading up to the world cup that I became a huge fan of football by reading as much as I could about the sport and those who had played it in the past. I even saw some footage of the previous world cup which put even more doubt in my mind as to weather Italy could really play this game since they did not manage to qualify to the quarter finals loosing out to Poland and Argentina; the first of which they lost to by 2 to 1 and second of which they barely managed a draw at one a piece.

I naturally had read about Italian greats like Gianni Rivera; player for AC Milan; thanks to whom I am even up to this day a Milanista (fan of AC Milan), Gigi Riva, Giuseppe Meazza, Piola and other greats but these had played a long time ago making me believe that perhaps Italy no longer had great football despite what my father told me. Regardless of my doubts the world cup in Argentina started with the first match that bore my stiff with Poland and Germany keeping a blank score through out the game.

By the time the Italian National team which I knew to be called the "Azurri" took the field against France I was ready and hopeful of seeing them win and see for myself that those whom I descended from could still play the game of football. Well looking back on this I can say that if Italy wanted to get off to a good start this could not have gone any worse. 38 seconds had gone by and France thanks to Lacombe was already up one nil making me want to just watch something else but it was my father who told me it was not over yet. I really thought Italy was going to loose because I had seen France beat Brazil (1 to 0 goal by Platini) before the world cup in Paris and hold them to a draw (2 to 2) in Rio but I stayed tuned after all even I could see then the world cup in football was a huge deal.

Italy started moving forward and at the 29 minute mark a very young player named Paolo Rossi brought us back in the game by leveling matters at one a piece with a strange goal that bounced of the post and another player before going in. I will never forget the hysteric shouts of "Goal" that I heard as this happened and I must admit I started feeling the emotion of wanting Italy to win like one of the many "tifossi" around me. As the game continued in the second half Italy scored again. This time it was an unmarked Renato Zaccarelli who put us ahead to stay as we went on to win 2 to 1.

I saw all the other games though Italy's held the most interest for me as I could see my grandmother was also caught up in the "calcio". I even remember seeing Brazil having a last minute goal disallowed against Sweden that would have won it for them at 2 to 1( because the final whistle had gone two seconds before) which forced them to settle for a 1 to 1 draw.

Italy won its next match against Hungary 3 to 1with Bettega, Benetti and again Rossi doing the honors while Hungary only managed one by Toth from the penalty spot when the score was already 3 to 0 in Italy's favor. Next came the home team; Argentina which had also won their first two games but this made no difference as Italy would go on to beat them 1 to 0 with a goal by Bettega who played for Juventus. By then I knew this was a game Italy could play as well if not better then most and I even started seeing the Azurri becoming champions as I though not Italian born started to feel from my father's side of the family the Italian in me.

I however was told by many that there still a long road to thread for Italy to win the FIFA world cup trophy but I was optimistic it could be done. The next match did not got so well for Italy as it saw us draw at 0 with West Germany (then defending world Champion) in a match that saw us do everything but score as Italy hit the post and had one saved on the line by Kaltz; a German defender. The second game in the quarterfinal round saw Italy return to winning ways beating Austria 1 to 0 with a 16 minute goal by Rossi. Italy had won but it had not been enough for in order to get to the finally they would need to beat the Netherlands who by virtue of having beaten Austria 5 to 1 and having drawn with Germany 2 to 2 had a better goal ratio of 7 to 3 while Italy's was 1 to 0.

A draw would simply not be enough so with this in mind our usually defensive minded Italy started on the offense; dominating the runners-up from the previous world cup who had great players like Neeskens, Rep and Rensenbrink with Cruyff their greatest player being absent. Eighteen minutes in the match a goal came for Italy when Brandts put the ball in to his own net and Italy in the lead and the final of the world cup. This was how the first half ended making me believe that with Italy's defense this was a score we could hold through out the second half. The second half however would prove to be my first heartbreaking experience in football as five minutes in to the second half Brandts would redeem himself by scoring for the Netherlands to make the score one, one. I was still optimistic Italy could get to the final after all they only needed one goal and had 40 minutes to get it but contrary to my hopes it would be the Netherlands to get the second goal when Haan (minute 75) scored from 30 meters out to practically ensure the Netherlands what would take their second trip to the final in as many world cups. As a thought that came to me after seeing Holland's second goal was that our goalkeeper; Dino Zoff was blind as it seemed that he just could not see the ball from a far. This being an opinion that was shared by many a critic of his specially after the next match. As for the final score of that game it read Netherlands 2 Italy 1 meaning that Italy would have to play Brazil for third place in a match that to this day I don't see much point in playing.

In this match again Italy would start of winning when Causio drew first blood with a header for Italy only to have Brazil like the Netherlands storm back with two spectacular goals to win 2 to 1. I must confess though that the first goal by Brazil scored by Nelinho was a truly masterful shot which I recommend to anybody who has not seen it to do so on Youtube as it is really worth a look. Brazil's second goal by Dirceu was also a long distance shot from outside the penalty box but nowhere near as spectacular as the one by Nelinho whose shot simply curled twice.

Italy was forth which was not bad but better days would come for the us the "tifossi" in 82 and 2006 when we would win the world cup and 90 when third place would be all we would get despite playing at home and in 94 when suffer we would in loosing the first final decided by penalties. During the years football has given my many great moments of glory and defeat though perhaps none greater then loosing to Argentina in Naples in the semifinal but in all I will never forget that time from that match in Wembley Stadium to the final in which Argentina beat the Netherlands 3 to 1 as it was this time that would see me become a great fan of the sport we Italians call "calcio". Football of course was a different game in those days then it is today but it was this time that allowed me to see the beauty of the sport and how it really was an international game played by so many nations from all over the world with Italy being one of the top teams as they showed in "Argentina 78".

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