Thursday, May 22, 2014

Meet the Team: Italy

Nickname: Like the rival French, Italy just goes by their color, though Azzuri sounds quite a bit more interesting than Les Bleus.

Super Mario has a lot of good cries
Star: Poster child for bad boy soccer stars (if you believe such a thing exists), is Mario Balotelli: "unmanageable" in the eyes of some managers, "insanely gifted" in the eyes of others, lightning rod for critics of "the right way to play", target of red cards everywhere, idol of those who fixate on "the beautiful game". One of the most famous players in the world, Super Mario will be vital to the Azzuri's chances in Brazil.

Hip-Star: Balotelli gets the goals, Buffon gets the armband, Pirlo gets the Nike ads, Chellini gets responsibility for the whole defense, and somewhere in the midst of all that Riccardo Montolivo quietly does his job as distributor, defender and all around lynchpin. Learn the name, and repeat it frequently so you can say, "I was a fan of Montolivo before it was cool to be a fan of Montolivo".

X-Factor:  Italy's life long philosophy of play is simple: defend, defend, defend and stun them at the end. Sometimes that works like a charm (see Cannavaro, Fabio in 2006), sometimes it works terribly (see Cannavaro, Fabio in 2010). Defense is less a focus than it has been in recent years, whether the shift in style will hold, or pan out, has yet to be seen.

Cesare wondering
about the name sake
Coach: After Marcello Lippi first saved the day, and then ruined the day, Italy turned their attention to Cesare Prandelli who has boosted the squad to strong showings at Euro 2012 and last year's Confederation's Cup. Those accomplishments are impressive, though Italy tends to prefer hardware rather than impressive results.

History: 4 gold stars on the crest mean 4 total championships. There was almost a 44 year gap between the second and third, and a 24 year gap between the third and fourth. In between there's a tale of feast and famine, washing out in group stages as often as they make the semi-finals, whether that's a predictable disaster or just a random coincidence we'll see soon enough.

Food: There's really no shortage of great Italian food, but I'm most excited to try a recipe I learned a few years ago: Budino di Rossi a sweet risotto pudding cooked in amaretto with dried fruits. I know...gourmet and alcoholic!

I do not want to call you Silvio
Fool: Some countries have dictators, some have bigots, and Italy has Silvio Berlusconi, the only man with less impulse control than Charlie Sheen, a man so doofish-ly full of himself that even Mario Balotelli thinks he needs to reevaluate his ego. A man convicted of corrupt dealings, who still thinks he should run the country. God bless you Silvio, you beautiful, beautiful moron.

Best Case: Stinging from the embarrassment four years ago, a motivated Italy comes through with a sterling performance against a tough group (including England and Uruguay), as well as whatever woebegone sucker sneaks out of group C, then stun Spain in the quarters, lock down Messi and get steal the title, getting revenge on Brazil for poor old Roberto Baggio.

Worst Case: Balotelli gets a red card inside of five minutes against England, aging stars Buffon and Pirlo get injured in the first 10, Italy gets bounced in three games and everyone laughs.

My prediction: Just 8 years ago they were the best in the World, just 4 years ago they were the worst in the field. This time they'll be where they belong, just about in the middle. Wins to start their run will get them confidence, and a second round date with underperforming Colombia. Of course, Italian confidence plus Colombian motivation equals an upset, but hey, for at least a week they'll look incredible. Round of Sixteen (Group Winners)

Added Bonus: Having honored a couple of Milan players, it's only right to honor a Milan based group, so here's the shout out to Club Dogo with dude bro party anthem "Michina Boh"

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