We'll get medals for shame'

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Italians ousted from World Cup

One of the perks of the job of Italian national soccer player is that despite the million-euro pay packets you still get free duds from Dolce and Gabbana.

Well, at least it makes for a well-dressed corpse.

The soccer world is used to watching the Italians escape from more tight spots than Indiana Jones. It's Italy, after all. Master of the last gasp.

Italy's Fabio Quagliarella is consoled by a teammate as he cries at the end of the Italians' World Cup Group F soccer match against Slovakia and Italy at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday. Slovakia won 3-2 to advance to the roun

Johannesburg -

One of the perks of the job of Italian national soccer player is that despite the million-euro pay packets you still get free duds from Dolce and Gabbana.

Well, at least it makes for a well-dressed corpse.

The soccer world is used to watching the Italians escape from more tight spots than Indiana Jones. It's Italy, after all. Master of the last gasp.

On Thursday at the FIFA World Cup, there was no escaping the reality, the humiliation for the 2006 champions.

Thursday's gasp was Italy's last - and likely the last gasps for skipper Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Rino Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi, Gianluigi Buffon (left to helplessly watch the misery from the bench) and Andrea Pirlo.

An era ended at Ellis Park as the reigning champion Azzurri crashed out, 3-2 to Slovakia. With that, this World Cup has witnessed the biggest Italian international flop since Roberto Benigni's live-action Pinocchio reached theatres - then left within the week.

"There's no point looking for alibis, as we realize we embarrassed ourselves,' midfielder Daniele De Rossi said.

In the final analysis, they weren't much more than France without the internal strife gone public.

"I take all responsibility, none excluded," departing Italian coach Marcello Lippi said at his farewell media conference. "Because if a team arrives at such an important appointment as this with the terror in their legs, heads and hearts, unable to express themselves, then it means the coach has not prepared the squad properly on any level.

"There are tactical and physical issues, too, but I think above all it is to do with the psychological aspect. I felt this team could achieve something and evidently I did not prepare them properly. I expected everything but the performance of the first half was dismal.

"I offer my apologies to Italian sport, the players, the football association - everyone. I am very disappointed to end my second experience on the Italy bench like this. I certainly didn't expect it. I didn't think I'd win the World Cup a second time, but (didn't expect) to crash out in the group phase.'

In Group E Thursday, Japan advanced to the next round along with the Netherlands. The Japanese beat Denmark 3-1 in Rustenburg, while the Dutch defeated Cameroon 2-1 in Cape Town as Arjen Robben made his World Cup debut at this year's tournament.

Group F was supposed to be a Sunday stroll in the Villa Borghese for the Italians, yet they finished dead last, underlining their first group-stage exit in 36 years.

"We shamed ourselves,' Pirlo said.

Most damning, considering the must-win situation, was that Italy didn't start to initiate, to attack, to actually play, until finding itself trailing 2-0. By then, given the decay throughout the lineup, that was far too late.

Paraguay and Slovakia, thought to be little more than bit players, move on from Group F.

There'll doubtless be shrill complaints about the injuries to Pirlo and Buffon, the questionable offside goal on a lean from Fabio Quagliarella and the close goal-line clearance by Slovakian defender Martin Skrtel off a Quagliarella drive, but the blunt truth is this was a tourney too far for the old guard and one too vast for the new.

Lippi himself seemed caught between eras, unable to shed the comfortable safety of his 2006 warriors and totally embrace the next wave of Azzurri.

The real surprise was Italy's wayward defending. Slovakia scored goals off a short corner and a throw-in. Isn't rock-ribbed defence the hallmark of the Azzurri's game?

"Nobody expected this,' said Slovakia's Marek Hamsik, who plays with Italian Serie A side Napoli. "It's a historic result. Italy were among the favourites.'

Not anymore.

The Italians have a lot to explain - Lippi first and foremost. His decision to leave flawed talents such as Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli at home will be much discussed. Quagliarella was a revelation coming off the bench. Why so long to use him? Why start the fading good soldier, Gattuso?

"There is only one analysis,' said Zambrotta. "We're bottom of the table. We deserve to go home. In the first two matches we played fairly well and gave everything we had.

"Today was a terrible first half, then we impressed after the break and could've gone through right at the death with a tiny bit more luck. It was not enough, so every player should take responsibility and accept this exit.'

"We'll get medals for shame,' said Gattuso, such an inspirational force four years ago. "We scraped the bottom of the barrel.'

Organizations: Dolce and Gabbana, FIFA

Geographic location: Italy, Slovakia, Johannesburg Ellis Park France Japan Netherlands Rustenburg Cape Town Paraguay

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