Monday, June 28, 2010

What happened to Italy?

I've been hearing this a lot lately, and it's a fair question. Italy entered this World Cup as reigning champions and left it in the first round. So what happened to Italy? There is an army of balding men wearing fat ties and slick glasses in RAI studios right now (over)analyzing this very matter, but I will give you my opinion. Since you asked.

The coach was the wrong choice, and he didn’t select or field the right players. To further devastate matters, our best chances at holding it together in spite of the deficit - Buffon and Pirlo - were injured and unable to play all but a few minutes of the first three matches. On the field Italy were limp, lifeless; they played without organization or heart. Except for the dying minutes of the third game against Slovakia, when Pirlo controlled with his calm, unerring passes, Quagliarella exploded with his bloodlust for goal, and Italy came alive. That was actually the hardest part of the tournament to watch, even compared to the embarrassing tie with New Zealand (who doesn't even have a professional soccer league). I was a ball of emotions: furious that Italy had waited so long to turn it on, overjoyed to see them play with heart and fire, and miserable to know the effort was wasted. The hole they'd dug themselves was too deep to climb out of.

Of course I'm ashamed that my team didn't make it out of group play. It's gutting to fall so far so fast, especially when naysayers use it to gripe that Italy didn't really deserve to win in 2006. Still, I believe the story couldn't have ended any other way. This team was not going to win the World Cup again, and the loss only gets more painful as the team advances. I'm almost glad Italy put it to bed so quickly. As a fan, I prefer to know right from the start that there is no hope.

So now what? Now the fans of mighty Italy lick our wounds and we wait. We change our computer background from the World Cup trophy because it isn't ours anymore, and we watch the reconstruction of the Azzurri. We cheer and we grieve, we praise and we curse, we beg and we boast, we demand and we despair, and we wait for the fratelli d'Italia to rise again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Hero

Picture it: Downtown Fayetteville, a hot Sunday afternoon. The kiddie race is about to start in the street at the annual Joe Martin Stage Race. The parking lot is roped off for vendor tents and the children’s play zone. My boys were not racing, as one is too young and one hates bikes, so they had the inflatable bounce house all to themselves. Paolo and Luca were hurling themselves around for all they were worth, while I watched at the entrance, cheering them on. Suddenly, I heard something odd: not a noise, but a LACK of noise. Before it dawned on me that the air blower hooked up to the four gigantic inflatables had cut out, the back columns of the bounce house collapsed. Paolo and Luca froze and stared at me in horror as the roof caved in on them. GET OUT, I yelled, BOYS, GET OUT, HURRY. Paolo was closer and managed to army-crawl his way to the entrance, but Luca was no match for the heavy canvas. I watched the tarp come down on him, covering his body until just his tiny hand was visible reaching out for rescue. I grabbed Paolo before he slipped out to safety. PAOLO, YOU’VE GOT TO GO BACK FOR YOUR BROTHER! With no hesitation, Paolo dived back in, grabbed Luca’s hand and pulled him free. I helped them both out onto the pavement, and we stood huddled together, staring in wonder at the puddle of canvas at our feet. A race coordinator sprinted over in full panic and asked, “Is there anyone in there?!” Hugging my boys tighter, I replied, “Not anymore.”

The rest of the day, that brush with disaster was top of Paolo’s mind. He didn’t brag about his own escape, but about how he had saved his brother. He was a hero now, actually, a superhero. If it hadn’t been for him, Luca would have been buried forever. "Just think," Paolo went on, "if I had never been born and Luca was your only son, he never would have gotten out." After assuring Paolo that his bravery was truly astonishing, I reminded him gently that I had been standing RIGHT THERE and would have helped Luca out if we’d been alone. And yet, I know how siblings work. Ten years from now, Paolo will probably still be reminding Luca, “You know, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be here.”