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  • Soccer: Ugly Things Tarnish Italy's Beautiful Game
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    AUGUST 1, 2004 This week some European soccer teams traveled to far away lands (like the United States and Canada) to play friendly matches and also promote the sport of soccer. But nowadays outsiders are not the only ones who need convincing that soccer should be the world's sport. A slew of controversies and disappointments have disillusioned fans in Italy, who are starting to give up on the country's number one pastime.

    On RAI television programs, man-on-the-street interviews have shown that Italians are fed up with the financial crises, drug scandals and the disappointing performances of overpaid diva athletes. While teams like A.C. Milan were in New York hocking their new jerseys at Macy's last week, Napoli was relegated to Serie C1 because of financial difficulties. The club was slated to play for Serie B but could not afford the price of playing in Italy's second level.

    The finance problems overshadow Napoli's glowing past; with the help of Diego Maradona, arguably one of the world's greatest soccer players, Napoli won the scudetto in 1987 and 1990. Now, all Napoli fans can hope for is that Ciro Ferrara and/or Fabio Cannavaro return to their native Napoli after their Serie A careers are over. It was once among the nation's top teams. If misery loves company, then fans can find relief because 11 other teams also got demoted for financial reasons last week.

    All summer, however, the weight of looming doom has hung heavy on the shoulders of Italian soccer. There was an utterly disappointing and embarrassing performance by the Italian national team at the 2004 European Cup, at which the country's star Francesco Totti spat at an opponent and was disqualified. Everyone wants to know why Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri and Totti himself can get paid absurd amounts of money to constantly lose and sometimes act out.

    Next came needless transfers including one that saw Italian Marco Di Vaio heading to Valencia in Spain, so Brazilian Emerson could come to Juventus. (Juve is in need of defenders and these two are forwards.) In addition, Juventus is the most popular Italian club, but it's also facing a slew of accusations that veteran players were given performance enhancing drugs. Rumors about players who cheated on their wives or had affairs with prostitutes have always plagued Serie A and its counterparts in other countries. The same is true for the fan violence at matches, which even interrupted a Roma-Lazio derby last season.

    So, is there hope for soccer? I would like to think so. There's the ever-sportsmanlike goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and goal-scoring phenomenons like Antonio Cassano, Fabrizio Miccoli and Alberto Gilardino. More importantly, thousands of Italian kids are still playing for the fun of it in the piazza. The actual game from graceful runs down the field to the unexpected but much anticipated goal can still be a revelation. No matter how many ugly byproducts soccer produces, the beautiful game lives on.

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