Toronto's World Cup Warriors: The Italian
The Team: Italy
World Cup History: Have won the title four times, in 1934, 1938, 1982, and the last tournament in 2006
First round schedule: Paraguay (June 14, 2:30 pm), New Zealand (June 20, 10 am), Slovakia (June 24, 10 am)
The Fan: Luke Melchiorre, 27
Occupation: PHD Student at U of T
Favourite player: Antonio Di Natale, the Italian number 10. I have loved him since he played for lowly Empoli. Italian legend Gigi Riva recently compared him to Diego Maradona, this is definintely a stretch, althoutgh he was the leading scorer in Serie A this year with 29 goals. His work rate is high, he is a wizard with the ball at his feet, and he is one of the best volleyers I have ever seen. He could be one of the stars of the tournament if things go right for Italy.
How far do you think your team will go in the tournament?:Unfortunately, I do not not have high hopes for this World Cup. For one, I think Italy's group, which many have called the Group of Life (as opposed to the very tough Group of Death), has been vastly underrated. While I do not think this team will be the first Italian squad to be eliminated in the group stages since the 1974 world cup in Germany, don't be surprised if they trip up against Paraguay in the first game. As for beyond the group stages, I think Italy's journey to elimination will be painfully brief. I see them going out in the round of 16, just like the defending Italian champions did against France in Mexico City in 1986. As with the 1986 team, the harsh reality is that the national team is currently between cycles. That being said, teams will underestimate the Italians at their own peril.
What's the key to your team's success this year?: While I do think that the notion that the Italian national team is always negative and overly defensive is an often overstated by our rivals and antiquated at this point, I don't think there is any denying that in the post-war era when Italy has been successful at major tournaments, their defence have always been rock solid. There is no question that for them to do well in South Africa, defensive young guns as well as veterans will have to be pitch perfect. In my view, this is unlikely, as the old guard (particularly the captain Fabio Cannavaro), are just too slow.
Where will you be watching the games?: My father's condo.
Any pre-game rituals?: Not really. Nice lunch at half-time usually and a cappuccino.
Which team is your most hated rival and why?: Probably France. I have too much respect for Brazil, Germany and even Argentina to consider them hated. The Portuguese team and their Toronto fans are annoying, but again, nothing in their world cup history makes me take them seriously as a true World Cup rival. For me, France fits the bill. We have suffered recent heartbreaking losses to them, their coach Raymond Domenach has repeatedly attacked the Italian game and its players, and the Zidane thing really kicked it all into overdrive in 2006. The victories over them in the 2006 final and at Euro 2008 were sweet, but I can comfortably say I still hate their team and hope that they have an awful World Cup.
Photo by Jonathan Loek
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