These days there is not much to cheer about when it comes to the Italian national team. While I still find pride in wearing the Azzurri shirt, it becomes increasingly difficult to wear it in public before any knowledgeable football fan. The latest result in a long running series of disappointments came Wednesday the 18th when the Italians lost to ICELAND in a friendly. Iceland....this is a team who had not won a game since last year when they beat the mighty Faroe Islands 1-0, an Iceland team who gave up 6 goals to England in June and a team who is 79th in the FIFA World Rankings. Unfortunately this pattern has been occurring far too long now and it is becoming tiresome to make excuses for a side who has more than enough talent to be among the elite in the world. I can trace the pain all the way back to 1998 when Italy lost to France in penalties. Then, in 2000, a glimmer of hope and glory in the Euro Championship when the Azzurri were within 1 minute of hoisting the trophy only for disaster to strike again in the form of a French equaliser followed by the golden goal a few moments later. Sadly, the 2002 World Cup only led the Italians to slide farther down its shameful path. After barely making it out of the group stage, Italy was shocked by a loss to the South Koreans in the second round game. South Korea? 1966 comes back to mind as a haunting date for Italian football fans. It was a shameful repeat of 2000 when the Azzurri failed to hold on to a lead in the waning moments of the game. Italy were among the favorites for Euro 2004 and looked as strong a squad as ever - finishing a strong campaign of qualifiers in which they were unbeaten. Yet the Italians disappointed (the word is not strong enough) again when they failed to qualify out of the group stage. And now.... Iceland. Iceland. Iceland. This is a country whose greatest claim to fame is Bjork. A shameful effort by the Italians - who were well deserving of a 2-0 defeat. The new Italian coach, Marcello Lippi, should have realized what he got himself into when he signed aboard as the new director of a lackluster squad. The Azzurri has played without passion - they always talk about the changes they have made, yet they have never followed thru on their vain promises. When will they learn? Perhaps they should study their younger counterparts - the Under 21 squad whose brilliance has shone in the past 5 years as they continually pump out championships. This is the only squad that offers hope to Italians who have grown weary of their national team consistently failing before the world. As the Under 21 team gets ready to play its Olympic quarterfinal match against Mali today, I can only hope that members of the national team will be watching to write down tips on how to play for pride and passion. The only good thing I can see of the 2-0 loss to Iceland is that it was only a friendly and not a World Cup qualifying match. But the national team must stop making excuses for its failures - I know I will.
(For similar stories please see: U.S. Mens Basketball team)