Sunday, 20 June 2010
I've lived in New Zealand for nearly thirteen years now, so the game between the All Whites and Italy in a few hours is also going to be a test of where my loyalties lie. I'd say with the old country, still, but I won't know until some time after kick-off I suspect. The other day for instance I surprised myself jumping up from the sofa after the Winston Reid goal, a much more sanguine reaction than the one following De Rossi's equally vital effort against Paraguay earlier in the week. Rationally I might also be inclined to support the team that is likely to go further in the tournament, but again, picking sides is not always the result of calculation, and just as often it's the side that picks you.
It doesn't help that I find both teams quite likeable. This year's on paper is the least talented Italian squad since 1986, but Lippi didn't respond by bringing aged talismans or popular young bolters, nor by stacking the team with defenders. He brought players who can play, and asked them to play. Whilst never looking like scoring and being lucky to get away with a draw, Italy played entertaining football in the opener, and made Paraguay look the cynical team relying entirely on organization and worrying about not losing ahead of winning - that is, like the stereotypical Italian side. They also looked very much like a group of players looking out for each other, which may not save them against the more stacked sides later in the tournament but is, well, a likeable trait. Plus: no Materazzi!
For their part, New Zealand over the last few months have been a very pleasant surprise. I wasn't impressed this time last year by the unseemingly theatrical celebrations by the coaching staff after a 0-0 draw against Iraq in the Confederations Cup. They were cheering the first point by an All Whites side in an official FIFA game, I suppose, but it was still a 0-0 in a dead rubber - hardly the reason why you play the game. Later they qualified through a comparatively easy route, but I give them a lot of credit for sticking with the team that took it to Bahrain in the play-off, instead of switching to a more dour, speculative formation. So it looks like they'll be playing Italy the way they did the Slovaks: with three strikers and a more than capable winger in Leo Bertos in support. Look for Killen and Fallon to hurt the Italian defence in the air if they can get enough decent crosses, and don't be shocked if the unthinkable happens.
That said, my reason says Italy takes this one 3-1. Whether I'll actually be cheering for that outcome, only time will tell.
Posted by Giovanni Tiso at 07:02