Suspicious Italians demand Dutch courage
Italians are suspicious of everything, or so it seems. Several of my friends in Milan refuse to eat pasta or pizza outside Italy because they don’t believe it will taste the same.
They are just as circumspect when it comes to soccer.
The Dutch have already qualified for the Euro 2008 quarter-finals and meet second-placed Romania in their final Group C match in Berne on Tuesday. World champions Italy need the Dutch to get a result to have any chance of going above the Romanians by beating or drawing with France.
The Italians are terrified that Netherlands coach Marco van Basten will put out a weakened side or the Dutch players will try to avoid injury and not give 100 percent.
Azzurri fans already think they have been robbed by the officials who allowed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goal in the 3-0 defeat by the Dutch and disallowed Luca Toni’s valid header in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Romania. Incidentally, that was played on Friday 13th and was the 13th game of the 13th European championship. But having said that, the unlucky number in Italy is actually 17…the date of the France game.
All this follows years of conspiracy theories which Italians have dreamt up to explain their early exit from tournaments.
At the 2002 World Cup, Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno was blamed for the 2-1 extra time defeat by South Korea in the second round. The Italians were convinced he was under orders to keep the hosts in the tournament. They had no hard evidence, of course.
Two years later Sweden drew 2-2 with Denmark in their final group game at Euro 2004 thanks to a last-minute goal. The result meant the two Scandinavian teams went through while Italy were dumped out despite their victory over Bulgaria. Again the Italians smelt a rat but nothing was proved.
The fact their 2006 World Cup triumph came in the midst of the Serie A match-fixing scandal was some sort of warped fate, according to many in Italy.
This time coach Roberto Donadoni says he expects old AC Milan chum Van Basten to rally his Dutch troops. Most Italians don’t agree.
Mark Meadows, following Italy at Euro 2008
PHOTO: Italy fans react while watching the Group C Euro 2008 soccer match between Italy and Romania on a screen at a fan zone in Zurich, June 13. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann