As many of you know, I spent the 2006 World Cup living in Verona, Italy, which is a city about two hours west of Venice and east of Milan. As a result, L'Azzurra will always hold a special place in my heart. Their epic run to the championship, with Gianluigi Buffon's star turn in goal and the infamous Zidane head-butt and shootout to finish it, is easily one of my Top Ten Sports Moments.
Speaking of which... I'll get on that, at some point. I'm sure Noffke is dying to resurrect the franchise.
Anyway, today Italy completed their fall from grace with a 3-2 defeat to a motivated Slovak squad that wouldn't have been able to hold 2006 Italia's jock. Highlights here. Much like the USA game yesterday, this one gave me a palpable sense of desperation while watching. However, the differences are crucial.
Guys who were the heart and soul of 2006 Italia were on the sidelines watching, Buffon looking like more of a coach than the beast who allowed a lone goal (an own goal no less) four years before, Gattuso looking homeless, Pirlo finally reaching the pitch in the 56th minute, where he ignited that famous Italian attack of four years ago.
But it was too little, too late. Substitute goalie Federico Marchetti was terrible all Cup, failing to make more than a single save in all of Group F action. He choked again in the closing minutes of this one, letting a Slovak substitute bounce a loose ball in, while Italian fans had visions of Buffon enveloping the rock authoritatively and starting a fast break.
Anyway, I'm rambling. Long story short is, Italia let itself get old and stagnant, and didn't do a whole lot about it. Cannavaro had clearly lost a step. Buffon and Pirlo being hurt definitely didn't help. If those guys are in, it's a different story.
It could be worse. Unlike the dirty effin' Frogs, at least L'Azzurra didn't fall into backstabbing and squabbling amongst themselves after an ignomonious Cup exit.
In the end, these players will not be remembered for 2010. All this was was a sad postscript to one of the great World Cup runs, and much like when the White Sox are mediocre, I can always remember that title just a few years ago. Cubs fans, France fans, choke on that!