Italian victory easier than taking candy from German babies


EURO 2012:IT IS not often you feel Germany were flattered by a 2-1 losing scoreline, but so it was in the National Stadium in Warsaw last night, where only some wasteful finishing by the Italians allowed the Germans back into the game for two minutes of extra-time.

As the Italian players walked down to their supporters’ end of the stadium, one player was missing from the celebrations. Two-goal hero Mario Balotelli was wrapped in an embrace with his family members in the front row of the terraces.

Completing a family sense of the occasion was Antonio Cassano, who strolled across the pitch with his baby in his arms.

In reality, the game had been a bit like that. Beating this Germany proved easier than taking candy from a baby. It was a night when even the players’ mothers could watch without any real sense of concern for their loved ones, such was the Italian domination.

To some extent, Italy found themselves playing in a home town atmosphere last night. It is not that there were not plenty of noisy German fans in the stadium; it was simply the “historical” context of this game that played into their hands.

In the history museum in the rebuilt historic centre of Warsaw, at regular intervals they show a 10-minute film, complete with English commentary.

The images of the 1944 German destruction of the city, in which more than 200,000 people were killed in a mixture of bombardments and street fighting, are truly horrendous.

When the Poles set about rebuilding an 80 per cent destroyed Warsaw, they had to rely on the remarkable paintings of 18th century Italian maestro, Bernardo Bellotto, to find out what their most valuable buildings had looked like. So total was the Nazi destruction of the capital, no maps, plans or paper records of the city survived.

In the circumstances, then, it hardly came as a surprise that last night, the “neutrals” were rooting for one side and one only. Football fans all over the world love to root for Germany’s opponents. In the Polish fan’s 10 commandments, that thou shalt boo Germany and support their opponents is not so much taken for granted as sacrosanct.

It is debatable whether, over the years, Italy has really earned the right to the sort of support they received last night. However, the azzurri have played a much less calculating, less risk-limiting game at these finals than at many previous tournaments.

Rarely at this level does one see a German side struggle as much as this one did last night, against both Italy and history. By the end of the match, their fans were being outshouted by much less numerous Italian rivals, while their desperate goalkeeper Manuel Neuer first almost got caught in possession on his own goal line before he headed off to join the last ditch assault on the Italian penalty area, leaving his own goal totally unguarded.

If one has any reservations about this performance, it was Italy’s failure to kill off the game, dodo dead, with a third goal. With Germany throwing all caution to the wind in the final half-hour as they tried to crawl back from 2-0 down in the first half, first substitute Antonio Di Natale, then midfielder Claudio Marchisio and defender Federico Balzaretti all failed to take chances that would have made a 3-0 scoreline that would not have flattered Italy.

Before this game one had sensed a curious optimism in the Italian camp. Italy’s form at this tournament certainly had something to do with that, as well as their record of registering historic World Cup wins over Germany in 1970, 1982 and 2006.

Perhaps, history and 200,000 Warsaw dead counted too.

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