Italy vs. England gets blood boiling

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during practice Krakow, Poland, June 21, 2012. (TONY...

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during practice Krakow, Poland, June 21, 2012. (TONY GENTILE/Reuters)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:35 PM ET

WARSAW - My life and loves as a soccer fan and writer can be summed up in a few painful words: An Italian who is always mistaken for being Portuguese.

Not that there is anything wrong with being Portuguese. But despite my steely determination to be neutral and my granite-like visage that never gives away the roiling emotions I go through whenever Italy plays, I am indeed azzurro to the core.

Surprised? It has been three days now that the most important location in the world to me has been Kiev. That is where Italy will play England in their Euro 2012 quarterfinal Sunday.

Italy and England ... just reading the names opposite each other, soon before they're to start pummelling each other, is beginning to make the blood boil.

For an Italian fan, there is no game more important at Euro.

It is a game that once again gives Italians a chance to school the so-called teachers of soccer that they still have a lot to learn.

Oops, sorry, I got carried away. But that’s what happens when Italy plays England.

Not all Italians who grow up in a soccer household are raised the same way. Some prefer to dress up in Italian flags, paint their faces, wear stupid hats, scream into television cameras and go to games in droves.

Then there are others raised in a family like mine where the head of the household loved his soccer but preferred to enjoy it like a fine wine, sipping quietly. When he went to a game, it was like attending a special play where the roles would be played out in front of him.

Having someone sitting behind him blabbing non-stop was akin to going to a play and having someone talk through it. Like theatre, soccer wasn't meant to be savored with running commentary, especially by some idiot who doesn’t know squat.

Italy versus England is the marquee matchup in the soccer world. India versus South Africa doesn’t have the same panache as India versus Pakistan in the world of cricket. The New York Yankees versus Toronto Blue Jays doesn’t have the same kind of panache as the Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox. John McEnroe versus Vitas Gerulaitis doesn’t have the same panache as McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg.

Italy versus Scotland, Italy versus Portugal even Italy versus Spain at this year’s Euro did not pull the emotional strings as taut as Italy versus England.

Given its druthers, Italy and its fans would rather beat England than any other team in the world.

“Mauro,” my dad, the quiet man would tell me when I was young. “Do you know why England didn’t go to the first World Cups? It is because they thought they were too good to play in a tournament against the rest of us.”

OK, I found out subsequently that that wasn’t the truth, but it’s just part of what rubs Italians the wrong way, the whole idea of England teaching football to anyone.

“Remember one thing, Mauro,” he said. “We have three World Cups (he died before the fourth) and England has only one.”

Like my father, I love soccer to the point that if Italy doesn’t win, it's more than just the loss of a game. It's a loss of some of the things I shared with my dad.

That’s changed somewhat. But while a soccer does not mean life and death, it is a source of pride to Italians. It brings together a diverse group of people from the same country. Soccer doesn’t recognize whether you are Sicilian, Calabrese, Veneto, Abruzzesi, Friuliano. You are all Italians. You curse at the inadequacies of your team and you cheer their success. The players come from where you come from and have the same traditions.

And like every other Italian, they love more than anything to beat the English.


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