Having a World Cup without Italy is like having Christmas without presents, Easter without Easter eggs, Valentine’s Day without flowers.

It can’t happen.

It shouldn’t happen.

It did happen. 

Let’s rewind to November 2017. Italy finished second to Spain in its qualifying group and were paired against Sweden in the playoffs to determine who would go to the World Cup. Over 180 minutes, Italy failed to score a goal and Sweden qualified. Sweden justified their playoff win by reaching the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup.

Did I watch the World Cup? 

Of course I did, I love this game and the Socceroos and was proud of the way Australia performed in their three matches. I did not expect Australia to progress past the group stage considering the world rankings of their opponents, France, Denmark and Peru. The team was superbly led by captain Mile Jedinak but need to develop genuine goal scorers if they are to become an elite footballing nation.  

Not since 1958 have Italy not qualified for the World Cup. Truth be told, Italy have been on a downward spiral since lifting the World Cup in 2006. There have been fleeting moments of hope, the 2012 European Championships Final, only to lose 4-0 to Spain, and the Antonio Conte led 2016 European Championships team which defeated both Spain and Belgium in the group stage, only to lose to Germany in the knockout stage on penalties.

Staying up late or getting up in the middle of the night to watch your national team play is a rite of passage for many Italian Australians and supporters of the world game. I have been more than fortunate in my lifetime so far that I have witnessed Italy win two World Cups, and Australia play in four consecutive World Cup finals.

I first fell in love with the game of football and the Azzurri when I was nine years old, watching Italy win the World Cup in Spain in 1982. Sitting around the fireplace with my family, eyes glued to the television, cheering on our team are memories I will never forget.

Italy’s win ignited a passion for the game I still hold close to my heart today, the affection and love can waver at times but the game itself always keeps me coming back for more. I grew to understand and appreciate international and club football very quickly. 

SBS didn’t switch on in Adelaide until 1985 and with Les Murray at the helm it was like all your Christmases had come at once. SBS showed hours and hours of football on a weekly basis, programs such as ‘World Soccer’, ‘European Soccer’, ‘Italian Football’ and the National Soccer League (NSL) to name a few. Plus every World Cup, European Championships, Copa America, African Nations Cup, Asian Cup matches were televised. I taped everything on video, and watched them over and over again.

Football in Australia was not at the level of its European and South American counterparts but it was tough and exciting and drew me towards it. Adelaide City won the 1986 NSL Championship and would also go on to win the national titles in 1992 and 1994. 

Whilst Italy always qualified for the World Cup and were usually amongst the favourites to win the competition, Australia had to wait an agonising 32 years to make it on the world stage once again. I sat through five heartbreaking qualifying campaigns from 1986 to 2002, as an Italian Australian I wanted all Australians to experience the pride you get when your country plays the beautiful game on the world stage.   

The person I felt for the most in all those failed World Cup qualifications was the late Johnny Warren, Mr Captain Socceroo. When Australia conceded two late goals to Iran in 1997 to go out on the away goals rule, Warren wept live on television after the World Cup playoff match ended in another Socceroo disaster. Warren sadly passed away on 6 November 2004. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2005, was the day which changed Australian football forever. The ghosts of past qualifications were eroded in one swift left foot penalty from South Australian John Aloisi who finally ended years of torment and regret to send Australia to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and a nation celebrated.

I couldn’t have been happier as an Italian Australian, that my country of birth would once again experience what it means to qualify for the World Cup. Now I would have two countries to support at the World Cup. Since Australia started qualifying regularly for the World Cup, the media coverage has grown significantly, and the more we hear, see and read about football in this country can only be a good thing, especially when you are competing against three other football codes.

Who did I support when Italy played Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany? 

I was supporting Italy, I thought Italy would have a more realistic chance of winning the World Cup. 

Were Italy fortunate enough to win with a controversial penalty?

Yes they were, but many forget Italian defender Marco Matterazzi was unjustly sent off in the first half. 

‘What would have been happened if VAR had been available in 2006?’ 

The answer is, we will never now, we can’t change the results of the past, however we can try and do our best to get all future decisions right.

I can take some comfort from Australia’s early exit and Italy’s non participation at the World Cup.

My two favourite club teams Juventus and Tottenham featured prominently in Russia 2018.  French Coach Didier Deschamps represented Juventus the last time they won the Champions League, Paul Pogba won four straight Scudetti, and Blaise Matuidi is now part of the Juventus family. 

Tottenham’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris captained France to the crown and Harry Kane won the Golden Boot with six goals. 

Categories: People | Europe | World Cup

2018 world cup, italy, socceroos

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