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  • Italy's World Cup Dreams
    The Italian national soccer team seeks the championship amid scandal - and their fans support them with all their heart
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Imagine complete silence. The streets of Italy are deserted - not a person in sight - even though it's a warm June night. Usually, on evenings like this, the whole world is in the piazza. But not when the Italian national soccer team plays a World Cup match, which is something that happens only every four years. The month-long tournament draws the attention of the entire country - from young children to their grandmothers. People leave work early and run home with their fog horns and flags in hand to see the games featuring Gli Azzurri (The Blues), the team's nickname for its blue jerseys. No one is left in the streets.

    In the old days, people would gather around radios or later big screen televisions in the piazza. But nowadays technology lives in just about every home. Someone you know in Italy is likely to have a plasma TV and therefore is obligated to throw a party for a World Cup match. For the Italian team's opening match against Ghana at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, I was in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Napoli. I went to a friend's house with about 15 others to cheer on Italy.

    Rooting against Italy (when celebrating with other Italians) is sacrilege and completely against the rules. Even though I'm a devoted fan of Italy, I couldn't even smile if the Americans did anything right when the two countries faced each other on June 17. My friends would have probably kicked me out of the house.

    World Cup games are also the only time Italians do not eat. The food sits and waits. Nervous excitement sits at the pit of everyone's stomach - and no one could eat even if he or she wanted to. It's more than a desire to see Italy score a goal. It's a burning need.

    But this year, some Italians called for a sciopero or strike from the national team games. Many fans feel betrayed because shortly before the World Cup, word hit the street that allegedly some of Italy's top clubs were involved in match fixing and bribery. One Italian, saying these players didn't merit the chance to play, closed himself in a room for fear of passing by a television while the game was on.

    Still, others, like us, are choosing to see the national team as a separate entity, something different from the club teams facing these charges. Even if many of the players and coach of the national team are embroiled in the scandal, we choose to view this in a different way. We take the national team personally. “Why should all of Italy suffer just because of the scandal?” asks my boyfriend Antonio. The national team, after all, represents more than sport. It's the symbol of a nation and its people. It is hope.

    How hopeful could we be this year? The Italians went from being the favorite to win the whole championship to having little chance to get out of the first round in light of the scandal. But ask and ye shall receive. We prayed for a win in that first game against Ghana - and that's exactly what we got. It seemed to be proof that we at least had a chance to do something great, to redeem ourselves amid this national shame. With every goal, we celebrated by waving the red, white and green and squeezing the loud horns in jubilation. We won 2 to nil against Ghana. That meant we could again be hopeful - and we could finally eat.

    You can check out Francesca Di Meglio's blog on all things Italian at her Web site.

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