12 posts tagged Azzurri
12 posts tagged Azzurri
We sang a hymn in his honour to the tune of the summertime hit Vamos A La Playa.
And, in time, we even forgave him his Juventino past.
He took a club which was down on its luck and gave it back the sparkling football and European nights it craved.
All of it carried out with the utmost class.
The passing of his beloved wife was endured with a dignity that only served to swell our intense affection for Il Mister.
And now, when we watch La Nazionale, we are consumed with feelings of fondness, nostalgia and regret. Grande Cesare.
Image via LastSticker.com
In the end, we went for VHS. Betamax had the better technical reputation but that Ferguson Videostar with buttons that jutted out like stubby little thumbs had won our hearts. Roll on the first major championships where my father and I could both watch AND record the Azzurri’s matches.
From memory, it took gargantuan strength just to work that machine for the matches at Euro 1980. You needed to contort your fingers like a concert pianist and have the push of a powerlifter simply to press the record and play buttons simultaneously. But, we thought, it would all be worth it.
Italy were coming off the back of a strong showing at the World Cup in Argentina two years earlier and were on home soil. Their group looked tough, but the tournament had been set up to help guide them to the final. Under the watchful eye of pipe-puffing Enzo Bearzot, a victory was - if not quite expected - then at least anticipated. We should have known better.
And yet, with the benefit of hindsight, that was a tasty little squad. There was a whole lotta Juve in the side with Dino Zoff in goal, Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea at the heart of the defence and Antonio Cabrini, Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega also in the ranks. Their creative hub - just to make a young Viola swoon - was Giancarlo Antognoni.
Goals, it turned out, would be in short supply. A nil-nil draw with Spain in the opening fixture in Milan preceded a classic clash for any Scottish-Italian - England in Turin. It turned out to be a vintage sucker-punch performance. Marco Tardelli, detailed to mark Kevin Keegan, popped up late in the game to hit the winner. Prompt a group roll around the carpet in celebration for myself, my father and his brothers. I have written about that before.
Our joy would be short-lived, however. Needing to beat Belgium to progress, Bettega and the gang huffed and puffed but could not find the net. It seemed to confirm an old failing - they were masters of the counter-attack but not so sharp at breaking down a stubborn opponent.
Years later, Zoff recalled how that 1980 tournament had got under way in a similar atmosphere to this year’s competition. “It was an unusual year because we were right in the heart of the football betting scandal,” he told Calcio 2000. “The atmosphere was, how shall we say, very edgy. We suffered a few refereeing decisions which hampered our chances. I remember the game with Belgium. The referee did not give us a clear penalty which made it hard for us to reach the final.”
From a personal point of view, I remember a feeling of deflation which would become familiar to me in future but was a novelty back then. Italy had only ever won the major tournaments they had hosted prior to that - the World Cup of 1934 and the Euros of 1968. Had my existence somehow jinxed them? A final victory for West Germany over Belgium made for miserable viewing.
Meanwhile, the Belgian stalemate had taken the Italians to an unwanted third and fourth place play-off with Czechoslovakia which dragged on for an eternity. It took extra time and, I think, 17 or 18 penalties to separate the sides. In the end it was Fulvio Collovati who had his spot-kick saved - although his shot squirmed under the goalkeeper’s body and was dragged back late in the day.
It was a disappointing end to a tournament started with such optimism. And numerous replays and juddering freeze-frames on our newly-purchased video equipment never could prove if that spot-kick had crossed the line or not.
Giorgio Chinaglia tribute. A controversial figure at times, but certainly never boring…
There are just 64 different routes for Italy, or any other nation for that matter, to win the European Nations next year. The restricted nature of the tournament means there are a relatively small number of potential four-team combinations. But how to judge what would be a dream group or constitute a group of death?
Italy go into pot two, thus avoiding any chance of meeting Germany, England or Russia in the first round. However, there are plenty of other potential minefields out there. What criteria makes the toughest group?
UEFA coefficient (based on last Euros, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 qualification) - This comes up with Spain, Croatia and Denmark as the #groupofdeath while Poland, Sweden and Republic of Ireland would represent its #dreamgroup.
FIFA rankings - These present a slightly different picture. Once again, not surprisingly, Spain would top a #groupofdeath but this time they would be joined by Portugal instead of Croatia but with Denmark still in the final berth. The #dreamgroup would also have Sweden but the Czech Republic rather than the Republic of Ireland and, finally, Poland again.
Past performance - What about looking at the previous editions of the European Nations? For our purposes I have given 5 points for a win, three for a runners-up spot and one for making the semi-finals. In addition, Russia have been credited with the Soviet Union’s points, Croatia got Yugoslavia’s, Czech Republic get Czechoslovakia’s and Germany get West Germany’s.
It produces a change with a #groupofdeath being Spain, Croatia and France and a #dreamgroup constituting either Poland or Ukraine with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.
Personal preference - My own hunches, for what they are worth. A #groupofdeath would be Spain, Portugal and France while the #dreamgroup would be Poland, Greece and Republic of Ireland.
Now, what are yours?
Maybe it was never the way I seem to remember it. The last ball was kicked in the final game of the Serie A season and we all got a few weeks to catch our breath. Off to the beach, soak up some sunshine on the Versilia coast and maybe slink back in time for the calciomercato in July - which was only a few weeks long.
The schedule changed a bit when there was a major championship, of course, but there was still time to take a break from football. Not any more, it would seem.
On Friday night we had Italy taking on Estonia in a vital European Nations qualifier (which they won, incidentally, giving space to technique over physique). That game overlapped with the Under 21s in action in the Toulon tournament (they drew with Portugal but ultimately squeezed through to the semi-finals). Those matches were sandwiched between the play-offs to gain access to Serie A (Padova and Novara will face off after some thrilling clashes).
There seems to be little or no rest for the calcio fan. There are deals being done every day to see players moving from one club to another. Italy have a friendly with the Republic of Ireland coming up, the Toulon tournament continues for the Azzurrini and there are more play-off matches to come.
When do we get a chance to take stock, unwind and then gear up for the new campaign?
Our hunger for information and action seems to know no limits. Even if you would like a moment of pause, there is probably somebody else who wouldn’t. And so, for someone’s benefit, there are all sorts of tournaments, friendlies and transfer rumours to fill what once was a quite welcome void.
Without any downtime, the game risks becoming all-consuming, overpowering and, dare I say it, a little tedious. There is no going back, most probably, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take the foot off the gas a little bit - if only for your sanity and that of your family. It is certainly a concept I am keen to explore.
So pour me another cool drink, unplug the laptop and take me to some distant shore without mobile phone reception. I don’t really need to know the latest hyped-up transfer deal or futile friendly result, do I? Well, at least not for a few days anyway…
“I dedicate the goal to my father, who died last year…
“A draw is good away from home. We have to continue like that.
“We felt we could even win the game because we were playing well, the team was running and fighting for the second goal which didn’t arrive unfortunately.”
Giuseppe Rossi, Italy’s goal hero in Germany.
It takes a special kind of man to run the Azzurri. Tactical vision, man-management skills and a steely resolve are required in about equal measure. Commissario Tecnico Enzo Bearzot possessed all three.
Over nine years in sole charge between 1977 and 1986 he helped to drag Italy out of the dead-end of catenaccio and back to being among the very best in the business. The groundwork he did in Argentina in 1978 paved the way for his crowning glory in Spain four years later. Thrown to the heavens by his players, he was rightly revered for ending a World Cup famine that was 44 years long.
It was a mammoth achievement in a country where everyone thinks they can do your job and the media is constantly probing for cracks in your squad’s unity. Bearzot had his own ideas about what personnel he needed to win the trophy and selected them despite much public outcry. He pinned his colours to Paolo Rossi, recently returned from a ban for his part in a match-rigging scandal, and it paid off in style.
Sitting on the bench, licking his lips or puffing on a pipe he managed to transmit confidence to his troops. They were sent off to Spain dubbed the worst ever squad to represent Italy. They came back with the ultimate prize.
Born in 1927 in the Friuli region, which has produced a string of fine coaches, Bearzot carved out a respectable playing career in the 1950s with clubs like Inter Milan and Torino. A defensive midfielder, he picked up one cap for his country in a defeat to the magnificent Hungarian side of the day. He retired from the game in 1964 to take up coaching roles with the Granata and little Tuscan side Prato before moving into the Italy set-up.
He eventually took up the top job in tandem with Fulvio Bernardini in 1975 before getting complete control two years later. It produced immediate results as the Azzurri sparkled in South America in 1978. They defeated the hosts and eventual winners Argentina in the group stages but ultimately fizzled out into fourth place.
Bearzot took those lessons on board with his team firmly built around the Blocco Juve due to the Bianconeri’s success in that period. He realised that their blistering start had not served them well in terms of getting silverware. It was much more important to hit form later in a tournament if you wanted to get your hands on the trophy.
It was a philosophy which turned to gold at Espana 82. Three dull group games saw the Azzurri tip-toe through to a second knockout group containing Argentina and Brazil. The bookmakers had Italy among the 50/1 outsiders for the tournament.
Suddenly, everything Bearzot had worked upon clicked. Rossi produced three goals to sink Brazil, Fiorentina’s Giancarlo Antognoni gave elegant cohesion to the midfield and Roma’s Bruno Conti caused mayhem with his darting runs. Few could get past the defensive skills of Juve’s Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile and Antonio Cabrini along with Inter’s Fulvio Collovati. Even if they did, they were met by veteran Bianconero Dino Zoff in goal and in outstanding late-career form.
The “grinta” of Gabriele Oriali, energy of Marco Tardelli and honest endeavour of Francesco Graziani were also harnessed to great effect along with cameo roles from the likes of Beppe Bergomi and Alessandro Altobelli.
As if by magic, they gained a momentum which had seemed impossible earlier in the tournament. From appearing the most unlikely victors, there was quickly an air of inevitability about their triumph. Killing off much-fancied Brazil gave them confidence and credibility. A final success over West Germany seemed almost a formality.
Bearzot famously played cards with the Italian president Sandro Pertini on the plane back from Spain. It came to symbolise the approach of a man who seemed like a throwback to another era. Some argued he was out of touch by the time he took charge of the ill-fated title defence in Mexico in 1986. But he had done so much for Italian football he surely deserved that chance.
He took a nation low on footballing confidence and gave it a shot of self-belief. Italy had always possessed good players but they had rarely done themselves justice on the international stage. This was still a strong defensive unit, but he gave them just enough freedom to express their undoubted abilities.
“For me, football should be played with two wingers, a centre forward and a playmaker,” he once said. “That’s the way I see the game. I select my players and then I let them play the game, without trying to impose tactical plans on them. You can’t tell Maradona, ‘Play the way I tell you.’ You have to leave him free to express himself. The rest will take care of itself.”
It was an approach which produced one of Italian football’s finest moments and paved the way to a new golden age for the Azzurri as World Cup contenders. His unshakable faith in his players was mirrored in a very different way by Marcello Lippi in Germany 24 years later. Once again, an unfancied group of players triumphed.
Bearzot will always be remembered for the masterpiece he produced in Spain nearly 30 years ago. The tiniest flicker of a smile playing across his face, he gave pride back to the Azzurri who had flopped so often at the World Cup. And for that Il Vecio, the Old Timer in his native dialect, should never be forgotten.
There is an old picture of my cousin which, to my mind, sums up the word ‘Pride’. Aged about six or seven, he has his foot on a ball in his parents’ back garden and his chest is puffed out inside an Azzurri tracksuit. It was one of the first examples of merchandising to emanate from the peninsula and it carried the name of the man every Italian boy wanted to be in the early 1980s – Paolo Rossi.
Yet he was a hero who almost never happened. Signed up by Juventus as a teenager, the frail-framed forward from Prato in Tuscany underwent not one, not two, but three knee operations before his career got properly started. And when it did, it slammed headlong into scandal.
Cesare Prandelli before Italy v Romania friendly