Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Italy are past their best, bring on Spain and Brazil

Another day in the World Cup. And more disappointing games. Why can’t the Germans play every night?

I guess on a positive note Brazil start their campaign this evening and Spain are in action tomorrow.

The only way is up.

Otherwise a tournament that promised so much is going to turn out to be a monumental flop.

The holders played their opening match in South Africa last night.

It wasn’t a grand entrance, that’s for sure.

In keeping with much of what we’ve seen from the Rainbow Nation to date, Italy flattered to deceive.

The 1-1 draw with Paraguay in Green Point stadium was a stop-start fixture.

It never really got started and you were wishing it would stop at any time.

Alright, maybe that’s a little too harsh, but I certainly won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD of this one, if anyone ever brought one out.

You will say of course, we’ve seen all this before where the Italians are concerned.

They always make slow starts and then go on to have a cracking tournament and maybe even win the thing.

Not exactly true. And here’s the proof.

Only ONCE out of the four occasions that the Azzurri have won the tournament did they fail to win their opening game.

That was famously back in 1982 when they didn’t win their first THREE.

Then they sprung into life with stunning victories over Argentina and a wonderfully gifted Brazil side before going all the way thanks to Paolo Rossi’s goalscoring heroics.

Four years ago, though, when in the final French legend Zinedine Zidane lost his head and buried it in Marco Materazzi’s chest, Italy began by beating Ghana, picking up seven points from the opening three group games.

And back in 1934 — no, I wasn’t around then — they hammered USA 7-1 on their way to becoming World Champions for the first time.

In 1938, their opening match was a victory over Norway and from there they played highly entertaining football on their way to glory.

A story has done the rounds since, that Hungary allowed Italy to beat them 4-2 in the final that year in order to save the lives of the Italian players, who apparently had been sent telegrams from dictator Benito Mussolini with “Win or die” written on them!

He has his moments, but somehow I can’t see the same “motivational tactics” being used by Italy’s current leader Silvio Berlusconi, though the players could certainly do with a kick up the backside from Marcello Lippi.

The legendary Italian coach has been under a bit of pressure from his nation’s media for his squad selection with many in his homeland feeling it lacked star quality.

On the evidence of last night they have a point.

When Daniele Di Rossi equalised the first half goal from Paraguay’s Antolin Alacaraz, the holders threatened to overpower their tiring opponents, but they lacked craft and class to break down a spirited defence.

Italy desperately missed the invention of Andrea Pirlo, who thankfully for them is nearing fitness after injury.

Back in 1938 Italy became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup.

Only Brazil (1958 and 1962) have done it since.

Before the tournament began I wasn’t convinced that the Italians were capable of doing what they did back in the 30s. Or even going close.

Yes, it’s been quite a year for Serie A football with Inter Milan claiming the Champions League, but it is worth noting that Jose Mourinho didn’t have an Italian in his strongest starting line-up.

And Jose knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a trophy.

To be fair, so does Lippi, but he and the Azzurri will be going home empty-handed this time.

Belfast Telegraph

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