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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Well, If You Created the Mafia, You'd Be Paranoid Too, Right? 

Euro 2004 finally served up some real belly laughs overnight, with the surly Italians being sent packing in highly controversial (if, that is, you are Italian, paranoid and unable to see past your own teams complete lack of killer instinct in big tournaments) circumstances.

A little recap: before the two games in Group C, Sweden and Denmark sat on 4 points each, Italy had 2 points, and the Bulgarians a hard-fought zero. With the way the rules stand for splitting teams equal on points (which I believe may involve a combination of the following: goals scored, head to head match ups, Uefa coefficients, a duck, an umbrella and several domino tiles), the scenario was thus:

If Italy won against the Bulgarians (a country, I hear from a reliable source, that has the best looking girls in Europe...anyone have any documentation on that? The website www.bulgariansgirlseatkapamanaked.bu appears to be down at the moment), and there was a result in the Sweden-Denmark match, then Italy and the winner of the other match would go through. Simple enough.

If Denmark and Sweden drew 1-1 or 0-0, then the duck had designated that Sweden would progress with Italy (assuming, again, Italy won; as I'm sure you don't need me to point out - okay, not counting you, yamis - an Italy loss would mean Denmark and Sweden went through regardless of the scoreline in their game).

Where it got interesting was if the Sweden-Denmark game ended in a high-scoring draw (that is, 2-2 or higher). No matter what Italy did on the pitch (and it would no doubt involve stubble, flowing locks, tantrums, and Christian Vieri doing his manic depressive Mafia lieutenant impression), it would be Sweden and Denmark winging their way to quarterfinals.

Queue 6 days of Italian paranoia and Scandinavian defensiveness. Such is the extent to which Italians love to act the victim of a good conspiracy, the site I linked to relates the story of how the Italian state-run TV station installed camera behind the goals before last night's Scandinavian showdown in order to catch any collusion that was sure to materialize.

So, the results from last night. Just typing them sends shivers of pleasure down my spine:

Italy 2 Bulgaria 1
Sweden 2 Denmark 2

Oh, how I wish I could be in Europe right now to experience first hand the Italians teeth-gnashing indignation and gesticulating self-righteousness. And more or less to make fun of them. My antipathy for this team stems from three factors:

1. their football is only slightly more inspiring than the Germans, which is to say, slightly better than watching paint dry on the side of a student flat in Palmerston North, while Winston Peters stands next to you bad-mouthing Asians for being responsible for New Zealand not winning the Super 12
2. I can't stand Christian Vieri, who to me is as graceful as an elephant on a tricycle and as petulant as spoiled child. Him pretty much being Australian doesn't help matters, either.
3. The Italians massively ungracious exit from the World Cup in 2002, when they were beaten by the host nation South Korea.

2002: It's the quarter-finals, and Italy are expecting to walk over the plucky Koreans, who did well to survive a group that few expected them to emerge from (they were helped by the fact that Portugal and Poland played about as well as my Sunday league team). The Italians start to get their handbags ready when the Koreans are awarded a penalty within the first five minutes. Korean strikers being what they are, however, means that the penalty is bottled and the score remains 0-0. That is, until the worst possible happening...uh, happens: Vieri scored after 18 minutes. So for the rest of the first half, and, oh, 43 minutes of the second, Italy did what they do best: ponce around defending a slim advantage.

But then, out of nowhere, a defensive error - not the referee, not a linesman - leads to a totally uncontroversial goal for the Koreans, and the score is suddenly 1-1. Italy remember to playy football again, and a cross into the box finds Christian Vieri completely unmarked from 6 yards out and he skies the ball over the bar when it would almsot literally have been easier to score. Just to re-emphasize: the Koreans scored a fair goal after the Italians had resorted to negative defensive football to grind out a win, and then the Italians missed a sitter, with no outside influences, on full-time that would have won the match. So it makes perfect sense then, that when Korea gets a golden goal winner with three minutes left in extra time, it's all one huge giant conspiracy to advance the host nation at the expense of the innocently pure, dewy eyed Italians who couldn't be blamed in any way for the loss. Yes, Totti was unlucky to be sent off - it still wasn't a penalty, mind - and the offside decision was tight (though, despite what Italians will tell you, it doesn't count as a disallowed goal because the Korean keeper had stopped playing once the whistle had blown, and thus may or may not have saved it), but the whole whiny, sulky, totally unreasonable Italian ejaculation of unmitigated indignation was totally beyond the pale.

So bear with me, right now, as I quietly enjoy the fact that one of the world's least sportsmanlike teams have been bundled out again from a major tournament, and enjoy the weeks of whining that is sure to follow. I know I will.

If the Danish defenders had tried any harder to save the late equalizer from going in they would have needed a gun and would be up on murder charges.

Cry me a river Italy you suckarses.

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