Time to Celebrate

10 Jun

How fast 173 days comes around.

The first time I looked at the countdown timer for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it was set on 173 days and counting. That only seems like a few weeks ago, now.

Memories take me back to the first world cup that I can remember watching – Italia ’90. For myself, this was introduction into televised football. Before then, the only time I’d seen the sport is as a junior on the pitch and the local state league with my Nonno, who is as avid a fan you can get in this country.

I remember the marketing that went along with the 1990 tournament. Being Italian, it was pretty significant. However, growing up in a family where both sides had a strong Calabrese heritage, it was hard to escape the verde, bianco e rosso. I remember having the t-shirt. (I have no idea where it went to). I had the mini, battery-operated video game (good fun for a while, the sound was annoying, though)

Fast forward to 1994 and it’s USA. The time difference meant that I was watching most matches every morning before school as well as the highlights show.

One memory still sticks in my mind in the lead up to USA ’94. SBS showed a replay of the Italy vs West Germany semi final from the 1970 world cup. This was my first experience with classic, world-class football. I can distinctly remember seeing, at the end of the match, Italian players exhausted with fatigue but celebrating their hard-fought victory. The West Germans, by contrast, were lying on their backs, tired and dehydrated from the heat and disheartened by their narrow loss.

They then showed the replay of the final – an ominous sign of things to come – between Brazil and Italy. The Brazilians won this match 4-1.

People still talk, to this day, of the brilliance of Mexico 1970. Still hailed as the greatest tournament yet due to the attacking style by most teams, the high number of goals, the absence of controversy and the brilliance of nations such as Brazil, Italy, West Germany and the world cup veterans of Uruguay.

France ’98 was another spectacle that amazed me. Seeing the killing off of giants such as Germany, Argentina, Italy and eventually Brazil, it occurred to me that anything could happen in football. I remember watching the quarter final match between Italy and France. The frustration with the Azzurri being unable to break the French defence. The Azzurri themselves being far too defensive, even for them. The golden goal rule was in effect and it was a scary two periods of extra time. However, when Di Biagio repeated the performance of Roberto Baggio only four years earlier (Baggio scored this time around) it was heartbreak at my Nonnos house. Everyone was speechless – even Nonna who got to have a glimpse at goalkeeper, Pagliuca’s bare bottom for a split second due to dodgy camera work, was upset.

2002 and again just like their cursed 1997 qualification campaign against Iran, Australia has failed to qualify. I really wanted the Azzurri to win this world cup. I was only 2 months old when they won it last, in 1982, and I wanted to be able to see them win it, at least once.

This wasn’t to be, South Korea emerged as an Asian giant to knock Italy out in the round of 16 and eventually gain fourth place in the cup as they lost the third place play-off match to Turkey 3-1 only two weeks later.

Brazil were winners over a strong and disciplined German side. It was good seeing Ronaldo celebrate after the heart break and speculation from four years earlier.

2006 and there is much indifference. I hadn’t followed football since that 2002 world cup. Even the Azzurri squad which contained some big names, were foreign to me. The heart break of 2002 possibly killed my interest in the world cup. Even having Australia participating was not enough for me to become interested.

Italy won in 2006. The sad thing however, is that I didn’t really care at the time. If they were to repeat this performance this time around, I would probably run through the streets naked (as promised by Maradona). However, back in 2006 I just didn’t have enough interest.

It’s 2010 and we are less than 12 hours away from the opening ceremony of Africa’s first world cup.

Do I believe that they are ready, as a nation, to hold the worlds biggest sporting event?

No. I do believe that a lot of the money put into the tournament could have gone to more beneficial areas.

However, this is the World Cup, and I hope that it goes off without a hitch and is a great spectacle of the world game.

It’s time for us to celebrate. It’s time to enjoy the greatest sport in the world.

Football, is again, centre stage.

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