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How Italy Can Win the World Cup
Discover what's holding back the Italian national team and the whole country for that matter
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is just around the corner. The public always has great expectations of the Italian national soccer team winning the tournament. Since the competition first began in the 1930s, the team has won four times (1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006). And it came in second place twice (1970 and 1994). It might not seem like it, but that's pretty awesome. Only Brazil has more wins. So, the pressure is understandable. Still, the competition in this modern era is tougher than ever, and Italy keeps digging in its heels and resting on its laurels.
Until Italy – as a nation – starts to change its attitude and to some extent its culture, the country won't have a shot in the World Cup or anywhere else. Here's the problem. Times have changed but the Italians are still stuck in the past. They talk about former glories as though they happened yesterday. In reality, it may as well have been 100 years ago. Yes, it's wonderful that Italy won the World Cup in '82 and '06. But the team lost in the years between the wins and at the last World Cup in 2010, sometimes miserably. Let's not even talk about what happened in Asia in 2002. Get over the wins, so you can win some more. You don't just win tournaments because you've won them in the past. You win them with smart strategy, strong work ethic, and cultivated talent.
That's another thing. Once a player or group of players has shown promise, the coaches and country ignore the up-and-coming youth. Yes, experience is great and you need that. The guy who has been with the team the longest can share his wisdom. If he has the right personality, he can fire up the others in the locker room, which produces results on the field. Allowing one or two team captain-like figures to hang around a little longer than they might have otherwise is understandable and can even work in a team's favor. Hello, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, and Roberto Baggio! But sometimes Italy is fielding what seems like a whole team of players, who might be secretly living in retirement villages already. I sometimes wonder if they use canes to walk when they're not limping on the pitch. This is true of Italian politics, too, by the way. The elders have to let go a bit, so the youth have a chance to shine (not to mention to garner their own experience, which will pay off for everybody in the future). Soccer is a rough sport. You run and run hard for 90 minutes (and overtime, too, on occasion in the World Cup). You play a couple games per week nowadays, also. Young, fresh legs usually stand a better chance. You need a few of them on the team, too.
Another problem that just about every soccer analyst in the world has noted about Italy is its unwillingness to give up on “catenaccio.” This refers to a style of play that is defensive. Basically, you score one goal as soon as you can and then the whole team plays defense for the rest of the game. The result is sometimes a win, but it's also a pretty uninspired game that fans hate to watch. Besides, it hasn't worked out too well for modern teams, who have tried to go this route. The fact is that nowadays soccer players all want to score, even the defenders. They're trying to make believers of non-soccer nations, such as the United States. One way to do it is to give the spectators more action, which means more goals. No one wants to post a Facebook or Instagram pic of a defender standing guard. They want action shots featuring the ball heading toward the net or a goalkeeper making an amazing stop. For that goalkeeper to have work to do, both teams have to try and score. For fans to have fun, both teams have to try and score.
To win, Italy has to try and score. Famously, Italy has thrown away wins or won just by a hair by scoring early on and letting the other team catch up. Let's not talk about how many times Italy's national team has had to try and win on penalty kicks at the World Cup. It's actually rather offensive. Penalty kicks is not a test of skill but rather of luck. Italy isn't very lucky, period. It doesn't matter if the southern Italian players are wearing gold horns or red underwear or having their nonnas ward off the malocchio ahead of the tournament. With Italy, luck is usually on the side of the other team. That's why they have to focus more on scoring and less on tying.
There is hope. At the start of the World Cup, there is always hope. For one, the coach seems to realize that champions want to score all. the. time. "It's now obvious that you can't get results without playing attractive football,” said Cesare Prandelli, the Italian national team coach when he took over, according to FIFA's Web site. I hope he really means it. I hope Italians listen to this and apply it to their own lives.
Italy cannot just play defense forever. Italians can't just live blissfully in the knowledge that they are connected to the greatness of yesteryear in the form of Renaissance artists, the beauty of Sofia Loren, Fellini films, beloved cuisine, and hot cars, such as the Ferrari. They have to use that history only as a source of inspiration to create new wonders to captivate the world, a more cynical and critical world. They must create. They must mover closer to the net. They must innovate. They must continuously score.
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