Italy Wins Battle of the Complexes
The Euro final lived up to the morbid expectations of half the participants.
Italy conquered its shootout demons, aided by a keeper, only 22 years old, who most closely resembles massive dinosaurs that roamed the earth eons ago.
England lost the shootout, after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes of play, giving the nation another year, another generation, to talk about the lads from West Ham who beat the West Germans in 1966.
Italy, known for its dogged tactics, that include Giorgio Chiellini smiling and chatting up opponents, was consistent with its repuation, as Chiellini tried to yank an English arm out of its socket.
Unknown to much of the soccer world before this month, Gianluigi Donnarumma revised memories of hallowed keepers Dino Zoff, Walter Zenga and the retired anthem-bellowing keeper Gigi Buffon. Now there’s another one.
While England broods over the Euro tournament, like patrons of some national pub, fans will surely question the tactics of manager Gareth Southgate, who missed a penalty himself, as England lost the 1996 Euro final.
Having had 25 years to think about it, Southgate inserted two subs near the end of 120 minutes – so they would help win the shootout, if you follow that reasoning.
What really bothers me is that one of them, Marcus Rashford, has helped raise millions of dollars to fight hunger. He is 23 years old and plays for Manchester United, and could easily be focusing on accumulating sports cars, but instead he raises money for the poor. I’m sure this admirable young man wanted to be used in the match, but the manager was saving him and Bukayo Saka of Arsenal, who turns 20 on Sept. 5, for penalty kicks.
Both are Black; did I mention that? And while Southgate was consoling them on the field, the sneaks and cowards of the “social” media were making racial comments about the two late subs. So now that’s part of the legend, part of the complex.
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In my earlier post, I wrote about old failures that haunt ancient soccer dynasties.
Italy and England, two nations with a toxic mix of entitlement and disillusionment, will meet Sunday in the finals of the Euros, the second best soccer tournament in the world.*
Fans of both countries can recite the failures, going back decades, with more facility than they can recall all the triumphs.
Italy has won four World Cups and the first Euro tournament, but the nation has a long case of ansia from every missed penalty kick in between – sturdy Captain Franco Baresi and creative Roberto Baggio, both suffering on bad legs, bravely taking PKs in the 1994 final -- and missing. It never goes away.
But England. Oy. England is riding a streak of 54 years without winning either of these tournaments.
Yet England dared to adopt as its theme song for the 2018 World Cup a ditty called “Football’s Coming Home,” and then England lost in the semifinals to Croatia, and France won the World Cup. France!
These years of English failure were recited, over and over again on Sunday by the ESPN broadcasting crew, Ian Darke (born in Portsmouth, UK) and Stewart Robson (born in Billericay, UK). I don't detect blatant rooting, like homer baseball broadcasters, urging “us” to score a few runs.
No, they knew their stuff about all the heinous moments in the past 54 years for the English side, and I don’t blame them for reciting the disasters for the folks watching ESPN. They were telling true stories.
Because American and English people share a common language, more or less, we Yanks have accepted English accents (whether or not Prof. Henry Higgins would approve of them) as the true soul of soccer.
To be fair, England is given credit as the modern home of the ancient sport of kicking stuff around – British sailors and workers bringing the game to the ports of South America, in the second half of the 19th Century, etc. etc.
Every year, every tournament, since 1966 looms even darker because of the wonderful event – England’s overtime victory over West Germany in the finals – at Wembley, the national stadium.
That match is probably the best-known in history because it is represented in the best sports documentary I have ever seen – “Goal!” written by Brian Glanville.
If an event like this can happen, English soccer must be the truth north of the sport, or so the theory goes.
England turns out to be the victim in two of the most famous plays in soccer history, at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when stumpy Diego Armando Maradona of Argentina elevated himself to the height of Peter Shilton, the English keeper, and obviously punched the ball into the net, stunning the incompetent ref into inaction. Nowadays, such villainy is detected by the official camera -- plus, goalkeepers tend to punch out the lights of an opponent who flies into their air space.
In that very same match in 1986, Maradona ran rings around all 11 defenders, or so it seemed, for the most circuitous and artistic goal in World Cup history.
Want more suffering? In 1998, in France, David Beckham, the matinee idol of England, was jostled by Argentina defender Diego Simeone, and flailed a leg at Simeone, who writhed, in apparent mortal pain, and the ref displayed a red card to Beckham, and Argentina advanced and England went home.
Every generation, England has its potential saviours -- Gary Lineker in 1990, and scamps who never quite made it happen like Wayne Rooney and Paul Gascoigne, known as Gazza.
Nowadays, English soccer has been upgraded from competition with wealthy European national leagues, as well as recruited talent from Latin America and Africa and nowadays even that longtime soccer wasteland, the United States.
And get this: the sparkplug for England on Wednesday was named Raheem -- Raheem Sterling. When I started watching world soccer, England's squad used to look like a Republican Party donors' picnic. All those white lads would dump the ball downfield and hope something happened.
As Wednesday’s match went into overtime, the broadcasters quite accurately recited, “just as it was in 1966!” As England won in a penalty shootout, the broadcasters talked about “England’s tortuous history.”
I almost felt sorry for English soccer – and I am a Mets fan since 1962. At least the Amazing Metsies have won two World Series.
Many Americans in my generation learned about soccer from my good friend Paul Gardner, a son of England, who came to America and wrote and broadcast about the sport he called “soccer,” not “football,” and he spoke of “zero-zero,” not “nil-nil,” to avoid sounding pretentious to the American ear. Andres Cantor, from Argentina, is known for his ululating “Gooooool!” call, but as a long-time resident of the U.S., he informs but never patronizes.
It would be great to have more “experts” in the U.S. with a broader, non-English viewpoint -- let's say an Italian bemoaning the missed penalty kicks over the eons or a Portuguese “expert” who can describe the drubbing inflicted on the great Eusebio in 1966 or a Brazilian who can discuss with passion the best team that ever participated in a World Cup – but neglected to win it, as beautiful Brazil did in 1982, while Italy purloined the World Cup with raffish zest.
As I have written in my book "Eight World Cups," that first World Cup made me an Azzurri fan for life. I got to interview Dino Zoff, the venerable keeper, and later met Claudio Gentile, who had beaten the daylights out of Maradona in 1982. I used to watch Serie A on some wavy-line TV channel in New York City, and a decade ago I met Gigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero (currently doing studio babble for ESPN) when Juventus paid a summer visit to the Stati Uniti. Del Piero told me, in English, "Your Italian better than my English" -- clear flattery, but charming nonetheless.
Yes, yes, I know, me mum was born in Liverpool, and spoke with English inflections for all her long and admirable life. Yes, I am proud of how the U.S. has, finally, developed world-level talent. But to this day, I love to watch the Italian players belt out the lyrics to the anthem, “Song of the Italians.” Long-time keeper Buffon is now retired but the Italians have another leader, Giorgio Chiellini, (with Buffon, above), who has the wrinkles of athletic old age and roars out the anthem, and jokes with opponents -- until the ref is not looking and he whacks and trips his opponents.
Yes, these have been terrible decades for sad, deprived Italy and England.
Now they will meet in Sunday’s final at Wembley.
Somebody will lose, and that nation will say: “Naturally.”
Somebody will win, and that nation will say: “Finally.”
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*- The best tournament, of course, is the World Cup. The third best is the Copa América, which held a dream final Saturday at Rio’s famous Maracana Stadium, with Lionel Messi's Argentina beating between Neymar’s Brazil, 1-0.
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(Complexes and failures aside, I am hooked on this video depiction of loyal, eccentric England fans; on Wednesday at kickoff, my pal Duncan-from-Arsenal sent me a terse email that said in its entirety: "Meat Pie." Do watch it.)
7/8/2021 11:34:27 am
Rory Smith recently mentioned in the NYT that England was a working class team in a working class city. Denmark's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel chose correctly on Harry Kane's PK and he had the ball in his hands against his body. Normally, particularly at this level, the ball is retained. It is possible that his hand were not properly positioned. One option would have been to punch it away.
7/9/2021 03:12:19 pm
7/9/2021 03:16:43 pm
7/8/2021 03:25:00 pm
Will the English ever get over themselves? We know you invented the game. But others have refined it beyond anything ever conceived of in the insular English sporting imagination. The once fun but now increasingly tiresome "Three Lions on a Shirt/Football's Coming Home" song? Written for the 1996 Euros, which were hosted by England(but won by...Germany). England has what are generally acknowledged to be the world's most unwelcome fans and some of its most insufferably xenophobic soccer journalists. God help us if England should win on Sunday night. Both the fans and the English press will be carrying on about it for the next fifty years. They are justly proud of their top professional competition, the English Premier League. But it's as English these days as Meghan Markle. Almost no club managers are English-the big clubs prefer Germans, Italians, French, Argentines and and Spaniards now-and most of the top clubs have relatively few English players on their books. So it's difficult for a national team coach to scout players and pick a team One thing is certain about Sunday's Final. Italy are not Denmark. They are tactically and technically superior, and they are notoriously good at defending. England are in for a hard day's night at Wembley.
7/9/2021 03:17:35 pm
John's perspective on soccer is always on target.
7/9/2021 03:24:42 pm
7/9/2021 03:35:44 pm
7/12/2021 12:13:17 pm
Mea Culpa, I see where your emotions are directed. Sad, indeed.
7/8/2021 04:18:33 pm
John, sounds as though you are tired of being subjugated by Geo III, lets have a Tea Party in Boston, to celebrate!
7/12/2021 12:16:07 pm
Have commented, mea culpa, after the events this weekend. Beyond disgust.
7/8/2021 04:28:54 pm
The first three responders all played the sport -- Alan as a keeper for Lehigh (and still teaching youths), John for a fast team at the Italian social club in North Beach, San Francisco, and Ed for Muhlenberg.
7/9/2021 08:24:36 am
7/9/2021 09:46:58 am
Let’s not forget the Brazil v Argentina Copa final Saturday night. Two great international title matches in less than 24 hours!! ⚽️⚽️
7/9/2021 03:27:59 pm
michael...i'll be watching but be i'll biting down on a hunk of leather to stop myself from swallowing my tongue watching the swan dives when somebody comes within a metre of an opponent.
7/9/2021 02:57:12 pm
7/10/2021 09:35:04 am
A last pre-game comment on tomorrow night's match. I think they are two very strong and talented teams with two of the better managers working at international level today. Both were standout players, which isn't as common a characteristic as you might think among international managers. In fact many of today's most successful managers had forgettable careers as pro players-or no pro career at all. England is tactically and technically superior and we all know how well they can defend when they have a lead. England are as talent-deep as they have ever been and they are playing at their home stadium in front of a huge and supportive crowd. My one criticism of Southgate is that he seems too slow to go to his bench when England are clearly dropping down a gear, as they did against Denmark, particularly Harry Kane. I've always been a skeptic about conspiracy theories that suggest FIFA or UEFA or whoever try to influence the outcomes of games. But the penalty given to Sterling which pretty much guaranteed England making it to the Final at Wembley is giving me second thoughts...In any case, Forza Italia!
7/10/2021 09:38:28 am
Obviously, I meant to write that ITALY is technically and tactically superior and can defend like no one else! Brain freeze...no other explanation.
7/10/2021 09:44:07 am
7/10/2021 11:15:45 am
This morning’s Washington Post story
7/11/2021 06:37:29 am
7/11/2021 09:48:20 am
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7/11/2021 10:17:38 pm
7/11/2021 11:06:21 pm
from the guardian.....https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/jul/12/fa-condemns-racist-abuse-england-players-social-media-euro-2020-final
7/12/2021 01:07:30 am
I am, of course, delighted that England have again denied themselves the glory and redemption they so desperately crave after 55 years of often self-inflicted disappointment. There will have to be a villain of course, someone to blame, even vilify, someone who will have to be the national poster child for serial failure. Sad indeed that it may be three young guys, three young but experienced professionals I hasten to add, all of whom are more or less the same age, or younger, as Italy's great goalkeeper, Donnarumma. They weren't facing a vastly experienced Zoff, Zenga or Buffon. Their nemesis was another twenty-two year-old who kept his nerve and did the business for Italy when it mattered most. That some in England immediately made this about race is deeply disheartening(though not that surprising, England still being a country with a deep inner core of insular beliefs that sometimes sadly still include racism) . Probably the same mob that booed and whistled whenever the England players tried to show solidarity by taking a knee before games. I would say that I understand Southgate's desire to insert some fresh attacking players for the penalty shootout. It wasn't necessarily a bad idea. But as George points out, we all remember how it can go when thoroughly exhausted players, even some of the world's very best, have to take a penalty kick on a bum leg. Let's not blame youth. Let's give credit where it's due, to a 22 year-old Italian who inherits the mantle of the greats of the past-Albertosi, Zoff, Zenga, Pagliuca, Peruzzi and Buffon. As for Southgate...who thought it would be he who decided to play the "Italian" way, trying to sit on a one-goal lead and choke the life out of the game. England scored very early and pretty much dominated the first half. But Italy showed signs of life in the waning minutes, then outplayed England in the second half and both overtime periods. They were unlucky not to score a second goal, something their scoring talisman Federico Chiesa just might have done had he not been injured. Southgate will no doubt be put under the microscope now by the English media. While the immediate focus is on his very late substitutions to bring on better penalty takers backfiring badly, I think his real mistake-and not just in this game-was to not make use of the considerable talent sitting on his bench sooner. He keeps tired, flagging players on the field too long. Rashford, Foden and Sancho in particular might have made the difference had they been given the chance to actually play for twenty or thirty minutes When Southgate did make a substitution it was to take off Rice, arguably England's best performer on the night, only to replace him with a defensive midfielder at a time when England needed to attack and score another goal. When all is said and done, it will be Southgate's questionable use of substitutions that will, and should be, the focus of criticism. In the meantime I will be happy not to have to hear "Football's Comin' Home" for a while. Because football went to Rome instead.
7/12/2021 01:12:19 am
7/12/2021 02:51:28 am
A friend from London(who shall remain anonymous)wrote the following, which I completely appreciate and agree with: "Listen very carefully, as I shall say this only once.
7/12/2021 07:17:48 am
What a trove of comments.
7/12/2021 07:32:47 am
George, you hit the nail on the head when it comes to racial matters in the game in Europe, and in the USA in a much larger and more important sense. While racial intolerance in "Calcio" is not entirely a thing of the past, it is much, much better than in the days of Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard playing at AC Milan and Aron Winter at Lazio and dealing with racism even from some of his club's own fans. It simply is not tolerated, at least not publicly. But last night, while watching the game in a public place, I overheard a man at the next table exclaim, as Bukayo Saka was being subbed in, "Not another blackie!" Clearly there is still some distance to go. And then there is Eastern Europe...
7/12/2021 08:13:26 am
Dear George: Perfect analyses about this game. There’s a sentence about soccer penalty decision that says it is a luck and sometimes as a tactic achievement as well. I think the mistake from England was to put two players at end game to kick the penalties. They were cold, and without the game-feel and the warmth that mission needs.
7/12/2021 09:00:12 am
Dear Altenir and others: Quite right, Southgate made a soccer blunder but it looked like a racial blunder. There is an old saying about our (semi-=professional) sport known as college basketball:
7/12/2021 09:29:56 am
Dear George: The racism is horrible. It was just a soccer game. Penalty could be luck, too. Brazil won a World Cup because of a bad day of one great player, Baggio.
7/12/2021 11:57:52 am
Altenir; That is true, Baggio was slow all game, (Hot day in LA in July)
7/12/2021 12:22:29 pm
desculpa que pena!
7/14/2021 12:54:52 pm
What ever happened to co-champions? In my youth, 1940-50’s, there would often be co-champions in many sports.
7/14/2021 01:06:48 pm
7/18/2021 11:14:25 pm
7/19/2021 09:43:42 am
Dear Tom Lange: What a nice surprise to see your name in my queue. I remember you vividly from those days when you made such an upgrade in the Soccer Federation. It was so easy to work with people because of your professionalism.
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.