ITALY AND INCE

June 23, 2008 |

I am truly glad to say that I lived to see Italy get out Italy’ed. Again. And what a snore fest it was. Two hours of football zero goals. This now all-too-common equation of dragging proceedings into extra time and penalties in Italian football also yielded almost zero entertainment.
The war of attrition that has become representative of recent Italian international football campaigns past the group stages was exactly that yesterday against the perennial underachieving Iberians.
In fact, if you put all the scoring chances in a thimble, you’d still have room enough to sew a tapestry. And a tepid tapestry it would’ve weaved. It would show a tale of how one post received a minor contusion after Gigi Buffon spilled a fairly tame effort against it, and how Iker Casillas suffered a bump from the ball after waking up suddenly from a lengthy nap in the six yard box to make a save in the second half.
And so after 30 minutes of extra time which – surprise, surprise – yielded zilch it was onto the much maligned 12 yard spot. Without boring you with more tawdry, meaningless details it culminated in Cesc Fabregas sending Buffon the wrong way and Spain into the round of four, winning it
4-2.
Pushing the temporal limits is something the Italians have excelled at in recent international competitions. In the ’90 World Cup they lost on penalties in the semi-finals, and then again to Brazil in the ’94 finals. In ’98 it was again spot kicks that decided their fate this time in the quarter-finals against the eventual winners, France. In ’06 the Azzurri won it all on penalties in the now infamous final against Zinedine Zidane’s French team.
With such a poor record (1-3) in the last two decades from penalties in elimination rounds, you’d think the Italians would play more expansive football and, say, try to win it in regulation. If not for themselves, then for the millions of viewers falling asleep in their beers as they watch the same staid defensive pattern adopted by every Italian coach since Moses stumbled back down the slope.
Anyway, with the Spanish offensive power and Turkey’s decimated line up, it’s looking like it’ll be a Germany-Spain final on Sunday. Or Turkey can do what they’ve been doing all along and upset the favourite, and Russia can do what they did in 1960 and munch on the whole enchilada. Funny old game this.

In other news, Paul Ince, former Man U midfielder, has been named Blackburn Rovers newest manager with Mark Hughes’ vacating the position in his move to Manchester City. It’s a signing that puts Ince in a distinguished fraternity of black Premiership team managers numbering exactly one. Him. Not keen to rush things, there must have been some real deliberation in this decision, taking 145 years. Well that’s not entirely true. Holland international Ruud Gullitt and Frenchman Jean Tigana had stints as managers, but this is the appointment of the first black Englishman to the helm of a topflight team. Currently there is only one other black English coach in any of the leagues – his old assistant Keith Alexander at Macclesfield.
Watching the idiot box and reading some sports yak online, it seems to have had quite the polarizing effect. Some see it as a bold initiative in moving to eradicate racism in the league. Others see it as a publicity move. After all, he doesn’t even have his license. Some are even predicting outright failure, quoting lack of experience. Now is this similar to the inexperience of the man he replaced, Mark Hughes and other fellow Manchester United Old Boy, Roy Keane had before they took the reins? I certainly hope so. Congratulations Mr. Ince. I hated you as a Red Devil but I hope to congratulate you on your coaching successes. May they all come against everyone but Liverpool.

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