We've got a two day breather until the Quarterfinals start so I thought I'd try to squeeze in an update. The World Cup has not disappointed me yet except for one particular aspect - Italy seems to have become the most despised team here due to some questionable calls that have gone in their favor, a sentiment which I feel is grossly undeserved. It started in the Italy-US match a couple weeks ago. It was an extremely physical and brutal match played by both teams. There were three red cards given in the match, 1 to Italy and 2 to the US. All were justified. For sure the first two were and yet American fans who seemingly know nothing about the sport have not stopped whining that they were screwed. I'm sad to say that American fans here have become a bit of a laughing stock to the many Brits and Germans I've been watching the matches with due to their incessant complaining about calls that were proven correct in replays. Anyway, the US came away with a miraculous draw that gave them a great chance to advance to the second round if they had just beaten Ghana in their last match, a match that they ended up losing 2-1.
Italy and Ghana advanced from the real "Group of Death" and Italy drew the surprising Australia team, playing in their first World Cup since 1974. The match was in Kaiserslautern which is only 45 minutes away so my friend Mike and I went there to hang out in the Fan Zone with all the crazy fans and experience the atmosphere. It was an amazingly good time with fans from both teams well represented and in a festive mood. The match was a tight one until the beginning of the second half, the Italian defender Materazzi was given an absurd red card for a tackle in which there was almost no contact at all. So Italy were down to 10 men and Australia were in great shape but Italy went into their customary defensive shell and played some of the best football I've seen them play. The Aussies controlled the ball but they didn't get a single shot on net. Despite playing defensive, Italy even had the better scoring chances. Just when it looked like the games was headed into overtime, Fabio Grosso dribbled the ball into the Aussie box, around Bresciano and Lucas Neill. Neill stupidly slid towards Grosso as he dribbled by him and Grosso stumbled over him. The ref instantly awarded Italy a penalty kick. Every Aussie in the world, as well as most non-Italians, cried BS and claimed that Grosso dove. Did he dive? It sure liked like it. However, the fact remains that Grosso had a clear path to the goal which was impeded by Neill lying on the ground after his tackle, which is called obstruction and when it happens inside the box, it is a penalty kick. So it doesn't matter if he dove or not. Francesco Totti calmly stepped up and buried the kick with no time left on the clock and the Italians escaped with their lives. I honestly feel bad for the Aussies. It was a devastating and terrible way to lose a game in which they played fantastic. But, as can be expected, the whining started right away. A few Aussies started trouble outside the stadium after the match but nothing too bad.
For us, the real trouble was back in Heidelberg, from an American fan no less. We got back home around 10, just in time to watch the second half of the Switzerland-Ukraine match at the pub. There were a few Americans at the table in front of us who apparently didn't like the fact that I was wearing an Italy jersey. One of them made a sarcastic remark under his breath as I walked by on my way to the bathroom. I noticed he was wearing a jersey from a team back home so when he got up I asked him where he was from. Sure enough, he was from the Boston suburb of Somerville (affectionately called "Slum-erville" by the locals). I told him I was from Nashua and said "How 'bout them Sox?". He responded "No, how about that US team." and walked away. Later, when they showed the Italy-Australia highlights, he further showed his maturity by pretend-diving over chairs in the pub. He then proceeded to get up and commiserate with some Aussies seated near our table, complaining in a very loud voiced directed at our table about how the Aussies got F'd by the refs just like they did and how Italy F'ing sucks, etc. We ignored him but when I was walking out I tried to be the bigger man and said "Go Sox" to which he replied "Yeah, keep paying off those refs". I chuckled and held up my fingers in the OK sign and he started taunting me as I was leaving, chastising me for not supporting my own country, blah, blah, blah. He was about my size and I probably could have taken him but I wasn't about to get into a fist fight over a damned soccer match. I was content to just let him make an ass out of himself.
Anyway, we went back the next night for the Brazil-Ghana and France-Spain match and sure enough the three idiots come in with their US national team jerseys on. They shot us dirty looks all night but didn't bother me as I was sitting with a few of my English hooligan friends. I kind of hope they're there tomorrow night when Italy play Ukraine (unless they lose of course...).
So, if you're one of the many Italy haters out there who are convinced that they're paying off the refs, please explain to me why Conrad's shirt pull that should have given Italy a penalty kick near the end of the US match wasn't called? And also explain why Materazzi was given that absurd red card that almost cost them the match against Australia? The point is, in both games that Italy supposedly got all the calls, there was at least one huge call against them that could have cost them the match yet the whiners never mention those. Italians haven't complained about either of them even though they justifiably could have.
As the Italians say, "Calcio e cosi"...Football is like this.