The Gentleman Ultra

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When Calcio Ruled The World: Zvonimir Boban

He was arguably one of the most talented players to play for Milan in the 1990’s. An impressive feat in a team that was made up of legends.  Zvonimir Boban combined skill, intelligence, and an outstanding passing range with a devastating shot; he is sometimes easy to forget just how good he was. 

Signed by Fabio Capello for £8 million in 1991 from Dinamo Zagreb the Croatian initially was loaned straight out to Bari. After suffering relegation with the Southern team, he came back to Milan to embark on a golden journey. This would see him win four Serie A titles, three Italian Super Cups, a Champions League and a European Super Cup. 

His partnership with Demetrio Albertini would become synonymous for having a touch of class and complete tactical awareness. Boban himself, technically was a genius and had a devastating ability to produce breath taking goals. These were taken from distance, with his head or from a graceful and fluid running pattern with the ball which was fuelled by his raw aggression and determination.

Boban could play in any role in midfield and his ability to adapt and be flexible made him indispensable. He would not just be able to ‘fit in’ and ‘do a job’; in the role he was asked to fill. On the contrary, he would play that role as well as the man who was there before him, if not better.

Boban’s one downfall was perhaps his lack of goals (30 in 251 games) and his temperament. The latter was could be his greatest asset but could often see him land in trouble on the pitch. Even so the Croatian was always willing to fight for the cause and for Milan over a decade when they swept all before them.

When Calcio ruled the World, Milan were perhaps the greatest and Boban was one of the best.

Zvonimir Boban’s Top 10 goals

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGFLcTMdvnQ

Filed under milan serie A Boban Croatia Albertini

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When Calcio Ruled The World: Lothar Matthaus

"He is the best rival I’ve ever had. I guess that’s enough to define him" Diego Maradona on Matthaus.

You could end it there and be satisfied that Lothar Matthaus was one of the greatest players ever to pull on an Inter shirt. The German had so much to his game that it is difficult to pin point his greatest attribute.

 He could pass sublimely, his runs were powerful and direct, his shot was like a rocket yet he had a subtle touch. He could head, tackle, he could defend, he could do pretty much everything. His sense of balance was uncanny for his physique and if you add this to his single mindedness, it is no wonder he became the player he was.

He may not have stood out for any one attribute in particular but he was the complete all-rounder that every team cries out for. His ability to lift a team on its knees and single handily change the game was there for all to see. He did not do this with tricks and what we now call flair. He did this with strength, drive and determination. It is complement enough, to say that there are no players in the modern day who even resemble him. When do you ever hear of anyone getting compared to Matthaus?

From 1988-1992 the Nerazzurri had a box to box midfielder who scored 40 goals in 115 games helping them to win Serie A 1988-89, a UEFA Cup in 1991 and a Supper Coppa in 1989. His time with Inter saw him play some of his best football of his career and he won a World Cup with Germany at Italia 1990. The Ballon D’Or 1990, Onze D’Or 1990, FIFA World player of the year 1991, German Footballer of the year 1990 and WSA Player of the year 1990 all followed. Quite a feat in his four years with Inter? 

When Calcio ruled the world Matthaus ruled Calcio!

Lothar Matthaus top ten goals for Inter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8eceg5UmNA

Filed under Inter Lothar Matthaus Nerazzurri Milan Serie A

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Remember when? : George Weah’s goal v Verona

George Weah v Verona 08/09/1996


Teams - AC Milan v Verona

Season - 1996 - 1997

Location - San Siro, Milan

Goal Scorer - George Weah

The lush green San Siro turf was covered in Milanese sunshine on the afternoon of the 8th September 1996. Verona were the visitors and Milan were leading 2-1.

The Rossoneri were defending a Verona corner, this was over hit and fell to the back post.  Weah controlled the ball instantly and took off six yards from his own goal. His blistering pace took him the length of the field skipping past and out muscling desperate Verona defenders. He evaded tackles for fun before cooly slipping the ball past the on rushing Verona keeper to score an incredible goal.

This the goal that George Weah will always be remembered by. Milan went on to win the game 4-1.


http://youtu.be/rwOLi3J4Y78

By Giovanni Dougall

@giovannid86

Filed under milan weah verona serie a

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Classic Calcio Kits: Napoli 1991/92 (Home)

Classic Calcio Kits: Napoli Home 1991 - 1992

Home Kit

Make - Umbro

Sponsor - Voiello

Worn by players such as Ciro Ferrara, Gianfranco Zola, Careca & Laurant Blanc

Fact - This was the first strip post Maradona, Gianfranco Zola was the man who would fill his boots that year and he struck 11 Serie A goals.

 


 By Giovanni Dougall

@giovannid86

Filed under napoli zola careca blanc serie a

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The Gentleman Ultra series for the Guardian

Juventus: Serie A alternative club guide

In his latest Italian football guide, the Gentleman Ultra profiles Juventus’s ground, fans and classic player David Trezeguet

Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and, of course, Michel Platini, embody what it means to be Juventus. The Turin giants are awash with great names throughout their illustrious history but David Trezeguet’s importance and meaning to the Bianconeri is often overlooked.

Trezeguet signed from Monaco for the 2000-01 season. He started well, scoring 15 times in his first season. Juventus were all-conquering at this time and it was no easy job establishing yourself among this plethora of talent. The Frenchman did just that and in the next season he finished Serie A’s top scorer with 24 league goals (32 in total).

READ THE REST ON THE GUARDIAN SPORTS NETWORK

http://www.theguardian.com/football/the-gentleman-ultra/2014/jul/22/juventus-serie-a-alternative-club-guide-fans-trezeguet?CMP=twt_gu

Follow me Richard Hall @Gentleman_Ultra

Filed under Juventus Juventus Arena david trezeguet guardian

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When Calcio Ruled The World: Ruben Sosa

Both Lazio and Inter have seen exciting strikers grace their fields in their time. Ruben Sosa however, has to be one of the most exciting and possibly one of the most under rated for both clubs.

The Uruguayan first came to the Peninsula in 1988 from Real Zaragoza and played for four years at Lazio where he scored 40 goals in 124 appearances. It was in this time that he caught the eye of the Nerazzurri and was promptly signed in 1992 to spearhead their attack.

Sosa’s time at Inter was explosive as the South American hit-man scored 20 league goals in his first season and another 16 in his second. He notched an impressive 44 goals in 76 games in all competitions winning the UEFA Cup on the way. It looked like the beginning of a successful and fruitful partnership and goals and silverware seemed to come hand in hand.

The romance was not set to continue as problems soon emerged in the Inter camp after Dennis Bergkamps arrival. Their relationship was not one that seemed to blossom on or off the field and in the end Sosa was surprisingly sold to Dortmund in 1995. Sosa always claimed that he treated Bergkamp as a rival rather than a colleague and that the Dutchman was disliked by his team mates.

Sosa was an all-round Latin striker in every sense of the word. He had skill, he often performed the spectacular (scissor kicks a speciality), he could score breath taking free kicks, round the goalkeeper and had the most delicate of touches. This was mixed with the dirty side of untidy goals, scrappy headers, tap ins, last ditch lunges and quite often a miss timed challenge. All in all he was the vision of how what a South American striker should be to most of us. 

When Calcio ruled the world Ruben Sosa was scoring goals for fun.

Sosa at Lazio

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGdIinkb21s

Sosa at Inter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kucpRvkgaKc

Filed under Ruben Sosa Milan Inter Lazio Rome Bergkamp dortmund

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The Gentleman Ultras guide to the teams of Serie A: Juventus

The Stadium

Team: Juventus
Capacity: 41,000
Built: 2011
City: Turin

The Juventus Arena is quite simply the future of Italian football stadia. This is not only due to the fact that it is the first ultra modern stadium in Serie A but also because Juventus own the entire structure. This is a first in Italy as the grounds are normally owned by local authorities.

The name of the stadium may soon be changed as the rights for this were sold back in 2008 to Sportfive. The stadium is built on the site of the old Stadio Delle Alpi which was Juventus’s previous home and has cost £90 million. The ground was officially opened on the 8th September 2011 and boasts many amenities not available in Italy’s other aging stadiums. It has a shopping complex outside it and 3,600 premium seats with an additional 120 executive boxes.

No one can argue that the atmosphere is just as intimidating as some of the other major grounds as the fans are close to the pitch. It is also important that the Juventus’s Ultra groups have a place in the Stadium and are allowed to support the team in the manner that they are accustomed to. All eyes are on Turin as they are now the pathfinders in Italian football.

The Ultras

Key Ultra Groups:  Gruppo Storico Fighters 1977 (Fighters Historic Group 1977), Black and White Fighters Gruppo Storico 1977, Drughi (The Droogs), Viking

Other Ultra Groups:  Fossa dei  Campioni (Champions Den), Panthers, Gioventu Bianconera (Black and White Youth), Area Bianconera (Black and White Area), Indians, Nucleo Amato Bianconero (Nuclear Black and White Love) later renamed Nucleo 1985, Arancia Meccanica (Clockwork Orange) l Fighters,  Irriducibili Vallette (Unbreakable Vallette), Arditi (Daring ones), 06 clan, Noi Soli (Only Us), Gruppo Marche 1993 (Marche Group), Bruxelles Bianconera (White and Black Brussels), Gruppo Homer (Homer Group), Assiduo Sostegno (Loyal Support), Bravi Ragazzi (Top boys), Tradizione Bianconera (Black and White Tradition), Vecchia Guardia (Old Guard)

“Real Madrid dumped you, Napoli repudiated you, only your greed brought you back here.”

This was the message that greeted Fabio Cannavaro on his return to Juventus in 2009. His two league titles with the Bianconeri did not spare him. He was regarded a traitor by the clubs Ultras, a player who had abandoned his team during their hour of need.

 Back in 2006 Juventus were relegated to Serie B in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal. While players like Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero remained, Cannavaro moved to Real Madrid. It is hard to begrudge such a career move but this treachery was neither forgotten nor forgiven. In the Ultras eyes it was his avarice which brought him back. A group known as Viking started circulating a t-shirt saying “Cannavaro mercenary” on the front and “No forgiveness for traitors” on the back.

This treatment of a former club hero did not sit well with some of Juve’s supporters,  but it exposes the visceral culture of the Ultras; one that borders on the extreme, but which has at its heart, is an unswerving  passion for one club. 

Darwin Pastorin, one of Italy’s famed football writers said:

“Juventus is a team which unites everyone: from intellectuals to workers…it is a universal team, a footballing Esperanto…and then there are the fans, the real fans, from Sicily to the Aosta Valley. There are eleven million of us!”

Juventus are the most successful club in Italian history with 29 league titles (31 if you’re a Juventino). They are the Manchester United of Italy.  You either love them or hate them and perhaps this is where the nickname La Fidanzata d’Italia (Italy’s girlfriend) originates. The club is the third oldest in Italy. It was founded in 1897 by a group of students from Turin and since 1923 they have been managed by the Agnelli family (founders and owners of FIAT).

Juventus also have nationwide support. This is in part due to the influx of workers from the South who migrated to Turin to work at Mirafiori ­– the huge FIAT factory constructed on the edge of the city in 1939. FIAT provided thousands of jobs and Umberto Agnelli (former CEO at FIAT and chairman at Juventus) once claimed that ‘one of the reasons which led migrants to choose Turin during the great migrations of the 1950’s and 60’s was the possibility of going to see Juventus play’. This combined with the clubs huge success has seen their fan base become the largest in Italy with a surfeit of Ultra groups.

The story of the Juventus Ultras is like no other written in this series. It reads like a script of the Borgias with its bewildering catalogue of schisms, reformations and civil war.

The origins of the Bianconeri’s organised support can be traced back to two groups, Venceremos and Autonomia Bianconera. Formed in the mid-1970s both were positioned to the extreme left of the political spectrum, a stance which has changed considerably.

In 1977, one of Juve’s most renowned Ultra groups, Gruppo Storico Fighters (Historic Fighters Group), was founded by Beppe Rossi, a man who remains a heroic figure among the Ultras today. Residing in the Curva Sud Scirea (or Curva Filadelfia as it was known in the old Stadio Olimpico) the vestiges of the group survive today. For ten years they enjoyed prominence among the landscape of the Italian Ultras yet the era would be marred by the darkest day in the history of Juventus.

In 1985 on the 29th of May, 39 Juventus fans died at Heysel stadium during their European Cup final against Liverpool. Trouble had already flared when Liverpool fans breached a fence separating them from the Italians. In the maelstrom that followed, Juventus fans were crushed against a concrete wall which collapsed killing and injuring many people. The culpability lay with the Liverpool fans and Belgian authorities but in truth the stadium was too decrepit for a game of such magnitude.

However for Juventini the blame was apportioned solely to Liverpool. An attempt was made to remove any ‘Englishness’ from the Curva and a virulent hatred was born. When the sides were drawn together in the Champions League in 2005; many Juve Ultras made their feelings clear by turning their backs on the choreography prepared by Liverpool at Anfield reading ‘Amicizia’ (friendship). In the return leg, banners were displayed reading ‘Easy to speak, difficult to pardon murders’ and ‘15-4-89. Sheffield. God exists’, the latter a reference to the Hillsborough disaster.

The 1980’s also saw the inception of other influential Ultra groups including Viking (whose members hailed from Milan) and Nucleo Amato Bianconero. The latter changed their name to Nucleo 1985 in memory of the Heysel victims. In 1987, following the dissolution of Fighters due to brutal skirmishes with bitter rivals Fiorentina, Arancia Meccanica (Clockwork Orange) was formed. Inspired by the Stanley Kubrick film, the group was an amalgam of various splinters in the Curva Sud, and under the authorities behest their name was later changed to I Drughi (the Droogs).  During their infancy their membership allegedly grew in excess of 10,000. However with the formation of Irriducibili Vallette (Vallette Unbreakables) who migrated to the Curva Nord and the re-emergence of the Fighters, the Ultras battled and squabbled among themselves.

Following the Bianconeri’sChampions League triumph against Ajax in 1996 the jubilant fans rallied under the same banner, calling themselves the Black and White Fighters Gruppo Storico 1977. However this unification faded with the outbreak of internecine fighting.

In 2005, yet again, the Fighters disbanded leaving the control of the Curva Sud up for grabs. This was compounded after the Turin giants were found guilty for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal. A power struggle ensued and before a pre-season friendly against Alessandria in 2006 this reached an ugly peak. Allegedly, multifarious groups including Tradizione Bianconera (Black and White Tradition), Arditi (Daring ones - both comprised of former Fighters), Drughi, Irriducibili and Viking clashed in what can only be described as civil war. Two fans were stabbed and 50 were arrested. Allegedly this is not the only occasion Juventus Ultras have attacked each other.

Today it would appear relative peace has been restored. The Fighters have returned to the Curva Sud Scirea and they are accompanied by Viking, the Drughi and a bourgeoning number of others.  While it is hard to get one’s head round this clannish mentality, the internal divisions reflect elements of wider Italian society.

Nonetheless the superfluity of Juventus Ultras can create one of the more colourful and eclectic atmospheres on the peninsula. Each group boasts their own banners creating a vibrant and multi-faceted choreography. This makes the chic Juventus stadium a cauldron on match days and there is rarely an empty seat.

Set to the backdrop of the Alps, straddling the River Po, Turin is often referred to as the Industrial centre of Italy. The city’s armoury includes FIAT, ancient Egyptian artefacts, a myriad of contemporary art and the best chocolate in Italy. However to the Juventini, Turin is most importantly home to a juggernaut of Italian football and the Ultras thrive in the knowledge that their beloved Vecchia Signora is the envied queen of Italy. 

Classic Player: David Trezeguet

Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and of course Michel Platini, embody what in recent times it means to be Juventus. The Turin giants are awash with great names throughout their illustrious history but David Trezeguet’s importance and meaning to the Bianconeri, is often overlooked.

Trezeguet signed from Monaco ready for the 2000/01 season. He started well, scoring 15 times in his first season in Italy. Juventus were all conquering at this time and it was no easy job establishing yourself amongst this plethora of talent. The Frenchman did just this and in the next season he finished Serie A’s top scorer with 24 goals (32 in total).

With this came back to back league titles, Serie A player of the year and Serie A foreign player of the year. Add to this, two Super Coppa Italiana’s and a Champions League Final and it was clear to see that Juventus and the pacey forward were a match made in heaven.

It looked like the glory years were here to stay as Juventus went on to collect the 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles. It was then that the French Internationals footballing world collapsed, as the Turin giants were embroiled in Calciopoli and had the previous two titles stripped. This was a turning point in Trezeguet’s future and an endorsement of his character.

Many star names jumped ship as Juventus’s punishment saw them relegated to Serie B. Lilian Thuram, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fabio Cannavaro, Patrick Vieira and Adrian Mutu were but a few that fled for their lives as the Bianconeri faced decimation. Trezeguet stayed and vowed along with the likes of Gigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero to return the club to the heights they believed they deserved.

It was during this time up until his release in 2010, that the goal poacher put in some of his most underrated work for the club.  When he left, he did so having returned his club not only to Serie A but to the Champions League.  He had surpassed Omar Sivori’s 167 goals making him Juventus’s all-time top foreign goal scorer and with 171 goals in total he was the fourth best goal scorer of all time in the Black and White of the iconic club.

Trezeguet had everything in his game, at 6ft 3 he was tall and powerful. He had extremely good acceleration and could maintain the pace. He had two good feet and was good in the air. Set pieces were part of his package and he had a natural instinct for goal. As if this was not enough he had the ability to be clinical. Most of his goals were reactionary to balls into the box. It is true he scored the odd scissor kick or spectacular volley but this was out of necessity rather than showman ship. He was simply focused on scoring, a dying breed in today’s game.

David Trezeguet was also a master of reading the oppositions back line. Many of his goals saw the entire defence looking horrified, as they realised the assistant referee had kept his flag down. He was a master at this and used it time and time again, often having time to round the keeper before slotting home.

Had he not been embroiled in the Italian match fixing scandal who knows how much he would have won? After all he did it at national level. His choice to stay at the club until he was released and his tireless effort and belief in his cause enabled fans of the Bianconeri to enjoy his goal scoring talents for a decade.

Underrated perhaps outside Juventus fans it is worth noting lesser players have been given higher accolades. When Calcio ruled the World David Trezeguet was just getting started.

Filed under Vikings Juventus Juventus Arena Ultras Turin Del Piero Platini Bianconeri Buffon

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Remember when………………

1992 Champions League

Milan 4-0 IFK Göteborg 

Van Basten 33, 53 (pen), 61, 62

The Swedish champions were humbled in the group stages by a Milan side that were on fire.

What’s more the Milanese had Marco Van Basten, whose virtuoso performance was topped off by a delectable overhead kick.

Fabio Capello  "I would rate Van Basten as a 9.5 tonight, but only because I don’t think perfection exists.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjbNPQuWhSA

Filed under Milan champions league ifk goteborg ravelli Capello

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When Calcio Ruled The World: Claudio Taffarel

The whole of Italy watched in horror. In Italia 90 Diego Maradona slotted a delectable ball through to Claudio Caniggia who proceeded to round Claudio Taffarel in the Brazilian goal to score.

 Argentina had been against the wall all game and yet, with Maradona’s only piece of genius so far in the tournament, they had slayed their South American rivals.

Taffarel however, had had a steady tournament and had laid waste to the perception that Brazilian goalkeepers were as reliable the tournament ticketing system.

It was for this reason that he was snapped up by newly promoted Parma. He paid them back with one of his finest ever seasons. Parma managed to over come all the odds and in a tough Serie A that year they managed to qualify for Europe in sixth place.

Awash with players purchased after the Italia 90 tournament, Parma marched on and in the three years Claudio was crucial as they lifted the Italian Cup and the UEFA Cup.

Taffarel left Parma in 1993 and moved to Reggiana where he stayed for a year before leaving Italy. His form here however, was good enough to earn him the No 1 shirt for Brazil in USA 94. The Brazilian shot stopper returned to Italy and Parma in 2001 as a sub keeper where he picked up another Italian Cup winners medal before moving to Empoli in 2003.

He retired without playing a game due to his car breaking down on the way to training and the Brazilian seeing this as a sign from God.

Dramatic? Perhaps, but Claudio had always a small tendency to be. Periods of steady goalkeeping were broken up with the odd mistake but overall he was a superb keeper and perhaps only Julio Cesar in recent times ha equalled him.

When Calcio ruled the world the Brazilian number one played for a newly promoted club and helped transform them.

Filed under Claudio Taffarel Parma Empoli Brazil Serie A

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CLASSIC CALCIO KITS: FIORENTINA 1992-93

A chance to look back at some of the iconic strips from when Italian Football was admired by all.

First up Fiorentina home: 92-93

Home Kit

Make - Lotto

Sponsor - 7up

Worn by players such as Batistuta, Brian Laudrup, Effenberg, Baiano and Caranascial.

Fact: Batistuta scored 16 times in the 1992-93 season

Filed under Fiorentina Laudrup Batistuta Effenberg baiano Caranascial

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Images of Italian Football

Stadio Pierluigi Penzo: Venice

Like the city itself the football club constantly battles the incoming tides.

Images of Italian Football

Stadio Pierluigi Penzo: Venice

Like the city itself the football club constantly battles the incoming tides.

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Luca’s Italian Diaries: Italy 0-1 Costa Rica - the Azzurri fall foul to yet another underdog story.

Italy have developed a nasty habit of losing to the so called ‘underdogs’. North Korea in 1966, Republic of Ireland in 1994, South Korea in 2002, Slovakia in 2010 and now Costa Rica in 2014. Even in Italy’s World Cup preparations for Brazil, they endured an ignominious 1-1 draw against Luxembourg.

Having watched a fair share of dismal Azzurri performances against supposed ‘inferior’ teams, there was a sense of horrible inevitability about Friday afternoons 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica. The Central Americans have proved to be one of the surprise packages and they secured their place in the last-16 thanks to a Bryan Ruiz header on the stroke of half-time.

But this defeat was worse than others I’ve witnessed, namely Slovakia and South Korea. Italy’s performance was lacklustre and desultory. But what irked the most, was that Cesare Prandelli’s men had been afforded ample warning about Costa Rica’s threat.

Los Ticos had dismantled a complacent Uruguay side just six days earlier, albeit one without their talisman Luis Suarez. In Prandelli’s pre-match press conference, he reiterated that, while he was constantly asked about England and Uruguay during the run up to Brazil, he had always underlined the danger of underestimating Costa Rica.

"When, back in Italy, I was being asked about England and Uruguay, I said we had to watch out for Costa Rica.” The 56-year-old told reporters last Thursday.

"They have three players up front with great quality, including [Joel] Campbell - a modern attacker who also has a good shot from distance. They deserved to beat Uruguay, and it’s going to be a very difficult game for us."

Italy simply did not heed this warning. The Costa Ricans are a true underdog story and they have played with the freedom of a team who carry no weight of expectation. Jorge Luis Pinto’s men have achieved an incredible feet, qualifying from a group that contains three previous World Cup winners but Prandelli was right, they possess talented individuals and a phenomenal team ethic.

Many of the Costa Rican squad ply their trade in Europe and their high-energy, enterprising style of play will no doubt ruffle some feathers in the last-16. However— man for man – Italy have a superior squad, just as they did when they faced the North Koreans, the Irish, the South Koreans and the Slovakians.

From demonstrating a measure of control against England, the Azzurri struggled to string three passes together against Los Ticos and that’s without mentioning the inexplicable amnesia concerning the offside rule. It’s becoming something of a farce that Azzurri sides experience an unprecedented dip in form when facing the ‘weaker’ teams. It is hard to pinpoint why Italy are notoriously susceptible to making the ‘easier’ games look incredibly hard. However against Costa Rica, one theory springs to mind.

Italy seemed to be preparing for the worst, getting there excuses in early. First there was the bad omen. Italy hadn’t won a second group game since France 1998 when they beat Cameroon 3-0. Then there was Prandelli’s mutterings about the sultry weather conditions. He castigated FIFA after their victory over England for not allowing water breaks during each half. While the Italian tactician has a point, the haughty FIFA suits certainly aren’t going to bend to Prandelli’s will in a hurry. This rhetoric continued in the former Fiorentina coach’s press conference on Thursday.

"Timeouts should always be included, no matter what. Today [Thursday] at 13.00 the temperature was 29 degrees and 57 percent humidity.

"But we knew that we’d encounter this kind of climate, and we’re ready for it. There are going to be games like this one in which we’re going to have to suffer, but we have got to look for another win."
Granted it was hot and humid in Recife and the Costa Ricans are certainly more acclimatised to such conditions. Yet, had Italy been able to manipulate possession as they did against England, this advantage may have been negated. In fact while the players were clearly suffering, that does not explain blunders such as Claudio Marchisio’s first-half wildly misplaced pass that went straight out for a Costa Rican corner.

This is not solely a criticism of Prandelli’s preparation and a lot more went wrong than just a negative mind-set. But given that the conditions were the same for both team and FIFA’s intransigency, the Italian bosses groans all seemed very futile.
The tempo was understandably slower than the England game, but the fundamental difference was the body language. It was as though the Italians were well aware they were going to suffer in treacherous conditions against an effervescent Costa Rican side but unlike against the Three Lions, they simply didn’t demonstrate the same resilience and resolve.

So what’s the answer to Italy’s quandary? Perhaps the world’s best motivational speaker or a hypnotist who can convince Italy they are playing Germany every week (Italy have never lost to their Germanic rivals in a major competition). Maybe even play a second string team, as Italy’s vanguard always seems to come up short. Or there is always the option of just not turning up and saving their energy.

But Italian hope springs eternal. Avoid defeat against Uruguay and they will seal their passage to the last-16. While the South Americans may be better acclimatised to the Brazilian weather, La Celeste are renowned as one of the World’s best and if we have learnt anything about Italy, it is that they are unpredictable and can produce their finest performances when faced with adversity.

Put simply, Italy won’t need to motivation for this game as generally speaking, against the better sides, they produce their best performances.

By Luca Hodges-Ramon - @LH_Ramon25

Filed under Italy costa rica world cup brazil

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Pride, passion and tears: The Italians 1990 World Cup campaign

Nostalgia is a term that describes sentimentality. It comes from the Greek words ‘nostos and algos’ which in turn means ‘home coming’ and ‘pain or ache’. It is easy to look back at the World Cup in Italy in 1990 and remember Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ and the incredible job done by the Italian nation as a whole. Many declare it was the intensity of these emotions that make it one of the greatest tournaments ever to be staged and that was in a large part down to the Azzurri.

Luciano Pavarotti’s ‘None shall sleep’, was instilled in the hearts of many through those obsolete televisions in the 90’s. During the tournament this was the case for many, as although the football was not always exciting, it did leave foreign viewers mesmerised by the end spectacle and many tried to watch every game.

The build-up itself for the Italians however, was perhaps somewhat more testing. A familiar pattern of public money going into the spider’s web of Italian local authorities saw left many stadiums unfinished. This continued right up until the kick off dates were close.

The Italians also had to endure, or enjoy (depending on your take) a rather different tune. Un Estate Italiana by Gianna Nannini and Edoardo Bennato was certainly a song best reviewed by the bemused Italian public on the opening day in Milan, only the Mascot ‘Ciao’ seemed to enjoy it. With that all said and the home nation were more concerned about on field problems and no amount of musical accompaniment, late stadium developments or Coca Cola footballs featuring Ciao, could turn them away from this.

Italy had been chosen to host the World Cup after beating off a rival bid from the Soviet Union. The vote was conducted in 1984, after smaller and less impressive bids by England and Greece had been already been dismissed. This meant Italy would not feature in a qualifying campaign and as hosts would have to play warm up games instead.

Coach Azeglio Vicini had an array of talent to choose from as Serie A continued to dominate world football at this time. His problem came when he looked at his forward options. Despite being able to boast a front two of Gianluca Vialli (Sampdoria) and Andrea Carnevale (Napoli) he had to admit that two goals in their seven pre-tournament friendlies was far from good enough.  The rest of the world had his team seeded as favourites to win the competition but somehow it seemed stale. Something needed to change.

Italian football at the time was at the height of its powers. Napoli had Maradona and Careca and had only recently won the Scudetto, whilst Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard all played for Milan. Inter too boasted Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme, whilst Fiorentina had Roberto Baggio and Roma Giuseppe Giannini. This was only small percentage of the immense amount of talent that ran through the division’s veins. Vicini needed a goal scorer still and very soon he would find one.

The Italian team was soon finalised and on paper it looked as strong as any in the tournament. The goalkeeping position was filled by the incredibly talented Walter Zenga from Inter, whilst the veteran Stefano Tacconi backed him up. In defence they looked formidable, after all this was the age where the Italians were defined by the art. Franco Baresi (Milan), Captain Giuseppe Bergomi (Inter), Circo Ferrara (Napoli), Riccardo Ferri (Inter) and the young Paolo Maldini made up the majority of it.

Midfield saw Fernando De Napoli (Napoli), Nicola Berti (Inter), Giuseppe Giannini (Roma) mixed with Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Donadoni of Milan. Roberto Baggio would play in an undefined role whilst the lack lustre Gianluca Vialli and Andrea Carnevarle would be supplemented by the equally goal shy (on a national level) Roberto Mancini (Sampdoria) and Aldo Serena (Inter). The final choice in the forward department was Juventus’s 25 year old Slavatore Schillachi. With only one cap to his name he was the shock inclusion in the side as after seven seasons in Serie B the Sicilian had come up to net 15 goals in his first season with Juventus.

Italy were put in group that featured the unpredictable Czechoslovakia, the minnows USA and the dark horses Austria. They would play all their games in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and were strongly predicted to romp through their group. The rest of the games would be played in Florence in the then named Stadio Comunale but it would be in the Eternal City that the group would get underway.

Italy faced Austria to a fanfare of nationalistic fervour and euphoric optimism. The warm up games were long out of the mind and the hosts were expected to push aside the Germanic upstarts with incredible ease. Vicini kept faith with Vialli and Carnevale but this proved misguided as the Austrians were a match for them. Boasting players like Toni Polster, Andreas Herzog and keeper Klaus Lindenberger they had scared the hosts more than once. On 74 minutes Carnevale was brought off for the ‘wild card’ Schillachi. Four minutes later he would change the game. Donadoni started the move with a superb pass, Vialli made the crucial cross and Schilachi headed it passed a helpless Lindenberger. The crowd erupted and the little forward ran to the corner flag, arms aloft, eyes wide with that definitive Sicilian stare. It was a winning start, next up USA.

The USA came to Italy with few fans and even fewer hopes. This being said Italy fond them hard to break down and despite an early goal the Americans put up a defiant display. Only eleven minutes were on the clock when a superb ball in saw Carnevale jump over the ball, this splendid dummy allowed Giannini tip toe past the American defence, before firing home passed Tony Meola. After this many in the Stadio Olimpico expected more but the USA managed to defend with more vigour and surprisingly kept the score down to 1-0. Italy however marched on with two wins behind them.

Schillachi was handed a start against the Czechs after coming on again as a sub against the USA. The Eastern Europeans boasted players to be wary of, like Sparta Pragues Tomas Skuhravy and Michal Bilek. Even so, Italy now already through to the next round, decided to take their foot off the gas for the first time. Baggio too got his first start of the competition and the nation held its breath as their favourite took to the field. It was Schillachi however, who caused the early problem and after nine minutes a cleared corner was miss hit back into the box by Berti. Schillachi managed get on the end and of it and head home for the opener. The Roman crowd though, would leave the Olimpico talking on only one thing that night and that would be Italy’s second goal from Baggio. This goal was perhaps one of the best of the whole World Cup. It saw him pick the ball up from deep, he shimmied passed a defender, then a one-two with Donadoni, two more defenders fell in his wake, before he slotted the ball passed Jan Stejskal and collapsed in ecstasy. It was an ice cool finish, topped off with white hot celebrations.  Three qualifying games completed, three wins behind them and Baggio mania was in full swing.

Uruguay faced Italy next in the second round also in Rome but by now many Italians felt like fate had one hand on the trophy for them. The South Americans promised to be a match for them, especially with front players, such as Daniel Fonseca, Carlos Aguilera, Ruben Sosa and Captain, Enzo Franchescoli. The game itself was defined by the little Sicilian again when a long kick from Zenga found Baggio. His deft control found Serena, his delightful through ball found Schillachi who smashed it from twenty yards with such power that it dipped easily over Penarol’s Fernando Álvez.

The second was not long coming and would also feature Serena. This time Giannini turned provider crossing in from a free kick. Serena was on hand to head home on his 30th birthday and cap off a superb display by the Inter man.

The quarter finals saw Italy in Rome again hosting ‘Big Jack Charltons’ Ireland. The Irish has made the World Cup a colourful display but despite a visit to St Peters and The Pope, it was not to be. The biggest compliment to be given to the Irish is that they helped nullify Italy for long periods of the game making into a dull affair. That was until the 38th minute when the ball was beautifully moved between Giannini then Baggio before falling to Donadoni . His strike was only parried by Paddy Bonner who fell in the process, the ball was met by who else but Schillachi. He threaded the ball home through the eye of a needle. Italy would proceed to the Semi Finals still without conceding a goal.

The semi-final would take place in Naples, home of Maradona who of course played for Napoli. The Argentine even tried to persuade the Neapolitans to cheer for Argentina as his rhetoric denounced Italy as not classing the Naples born citizens as Italian.  Italy though had one hand on the trophy and looked towards Schillachi as the Semi- Finals loomed, after all they had not conceded a goal and Argentina were less than convincing.

This feeling of optimism seemed to be well thought as on 17 minutes Schillachi picked up the ball on the left hand side and started to weave his magic. Donadoni found Baggio who flicked the ball up in the air, then Vialli’s close range shot was only parried by Sergio Goycochea, who else but the little Sicilian was there to finish it off. The tough little striker from Sicily was hardly recognised before the World Cup but now with this goal he was joint top scorer with five.

In the second half the unthinkable happened. Italy conceded their first goal of the tournament. Maradona who had done little in the tournament played the ball out to Julio Olarticoechea, he provided a cross for Atalanta’s Claudio Caniggia. The long blonde haired forward had no right to win this but Walter Zenga who had been impeccable all World Cup, came charging out and was too late to punch. 1-1 and the game would go to extra time.

Extra time, exciting as it was, inevitably ended up in a penalty shootout. Franco Baresi, Roberto Baggio and Luigi De Agostini scored for Italy.  Jose Serrizuela, Jorge Burruchaga and Julio Olarticoechea replied for Argentina. Roberto Donadoni saw his spot kick saved by Goycochea, whilst Maradona scored. The final penalty fell to Aldo Serena, he stepped up but it was saved in style by Argentina’s new hero. Italy, were out.

Consolation, if that what it was, was found for England and Italy in a match for third and fourth place in Bari. It was Peter Shilton’s last International and sadly a man who performed with distinction and for the most part since his debut in was left with an embarrassed finale.

From a back pass Shilton’s concentration wavered as he went to pick up the ball, Roberto Baggio took full advantage stole it off him and played a one two with Schillaci before scoring for Italy. Steve McMahon had passed back but Shilton for once was unaware of everything around him, Schillaci sneaked in supported by Baggio, England went a goal down.

Not for the first time however, Bobby Robsons men rallied with spirit and with ten minutes remaining, left full back Tony Dorigo’s cross opened up another chance for David Platt. He towered to thump a commanding header past Walter Zenga, it was 1-1. Platt had scored against Belgium Cameroon and now Italy had established himself as one of England players of the future.

Italy did not lie down and four minutes later they regained their lead. Paul Parker was adjudged to have fouled Schillaci just inside the penalty area. The penalty was awarded and the Italians decided to give Schillaci the chance of scoring another goal that would take him to a total of six and the opportunity of finishing the World Cups top scorer. Schillaci obliged, Italy finished third and England fourth.

Schillachi had finished tip scorer with six goals at Italia 90 and for the short time he had great hopes. Italy had only conceded one goal and in truth the tournament had come down to one moments lapse of concentration when other teams had got away with so many. It was a cruel blow for a team that many saw as the best in the competition.

Italy had had their ‘home coming’ and their ‘pain or ache’ and so in an apt way this falls into the category of nostalgia. Not least in the talent this team produced but also to the heights the individuals would go to in the future.

As Puccini predicted and Pavarotti sang: "Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!"

"Vanish, o night! Fade, you stars! Fade, you stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!”

By Richard Hall (Creator of The Gentleman Ultra)

Follow me on Twitter @Gentleman_Ultra

Filed under Italy England Italia 90 Salvatore Schillaci Baggio Vialli Zenga Ireland Czech USA Austria Uruguay