Tuesday, June 30, 2009

a few thoughts on the confederations cup, part three: Brazil and Italy

Brazil. To anyone who follows world soccer, it's not news that Brazil doesn't samba across the pitch any longer, and hasn't for a long time. These days they look like a talented team, but not one with a style that sets them significantly apart from other talented teams. But while joga bonito may have seen better days in Brazil, this is also not the leadfooted defensive-minded Brazil that shocked many of us in the 2007 Copa América. Whether or not Dunga, their coach, cared about the criticism leveled at his dull-but-successful squad at that time, he's definitely fielding a more attacking and creative team these days.

And yet Brazil doesn't rouse an ounce of passion in me--I'm an Argentina girl myself, and somehow the magic of Kaká and Robinho, Alexander Pato, Gilberto Silva and Dani Alves (when he's not at Barça) and all the rest fails to move me. Or maybe I'm just stuck in the past, missing that Ronaldo and Ronaldinho magic. (And yeah, both of those guys, past their heydays much too early, have been guilty of wholly uninspired performances on the pitch as well.)

They were champions in this tournament; they'll do well in the World Cup. But they're not invulnerable, and for a little while on Sunday it looked like the US might beat them. However, the 3-2 scoreline was a little bit of a lie; the disallowed second goal was entirely legit and the score ought to have been 4-2. Had the US won that match the result would have always been tainted with that unfortunate call.

Italy. I like several of the Italian players, I've enjoyed quite a few Serie A matches in my day, and Joe McGinniss's Miracle of Castel di Sangro, about one Terza Categoria's team improbable rise to Serie B is one of my favorite books ever. And yet watching Italy never fails to make me mad sooner or later. Maybe it's the reputation (no longer deserved) for catenaccio, or the ease with which they go to ground; then there's Daniel DeRossi's elbow-in-the-face to Brian McBride in Germany in 2006, Marco Materazzi's goading of Zidane in the final, the unpleasant association of some Italian players with fascist ideology. I don't know; I can't explain it.

I was sorry the US couldn't exact a little payback for the World Cup brawl, but I took satisfaction in Italy's departure following the group stages. Will the world champions look more formidable in a year's time? Eh, probably. But they're an older squad, and they need to inject some more youth into their ranks if they want to go all the way again in South Africa.

And speaking of young talent, I know a lot of Americans are all het up--in varying degrees of seriousness--over young Guiseppe Rossi's decision to play for Italy instead of the US. Jaysus, people. It's not as though he grew up here and obtained foreign citizenship through some long-dead great-grandparent or something. He was born in the US to immigrant parents and moved back to Italy to play for Parma when he was 13. I'm not surprised he doesn't have particularly strong ties to this country, and I don't blame him one bit for choosing a national team that's likely to get him a lot more playing time at a much higher level and is probably, at this point in his life, closer to his heart culturally.

(And yeah...if Italy faces the US again in South Africa next year, and Rossi ends up being decisive in an Italian victory, all my high-mindedness is likely to evaporate in a spittle-crazed vindictive rant about traitors and deserters. But that's football for ya. Watch this space.)

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