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Italians mo’ better blues in World Cup


Italians are still caught up in a frenzy of uncharacteristic flag-waving and horn tooting after beating the French Les Bleus to take the World Cup on Sunday. (Out of the two blue teams, Italy wore the first-place ribbon color while the French had to wear alternate white. A sign?) One million fans waited for the Azzurri’s triumphant return with the cup in Rome last night, all of yesterday’s newscasts were dedicated to the win.

Frankly, after the first testosterone rush — or maybe just the smelling-salt effect of being in a mostly male summer crowd in a country where people, yes bathe, yes wear deodorant but not antiperspirant. There’s a difference. — I’m a bit over it.

It all comes down to a banner I snapped the night of the final: “I’ve got a big one.” Translated, of course, you miss the pun, in Italian big, “grosso,” is also the name of star defender Fabio Grosso who, incidentally, made the decisive penalty kick.

Size matters…

The skirmish during overtime between Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi was definitely about who’s got a bigger one. The Italian player said something to the French player. The French player headbutted him to the ground and was expelled.

No one knows what was said. The Guardian speculates Materazzi called him a “terrorist.” That doesn’t strike me as the kind of nasty playground taunt that would fire anyone up enough to risk getting expelled. (There’s a jokey radio call-in on right now about what Materazzi said to Zidane. Listener consensus seems to be something about the French player’s mamma or a lack of faithfulness of his wife). Most likely, it’s closer to the jumble of incoherent racial and familial insults hypothesized here.

Still, I’m not buying the take of this U.S. journalist who imagines the Italians taunting the French with racial insults throughout the game. Where were they when Italian goal keeper Buffon gave Zidane an affectionate hug? It’s easy to forget that most of these guys have been teammates, sometimes for years. (Just to name a few, Thierry Henry, David Trézéguet and Zidane play or have played for Turin’s Juventus.) And if you believe the stats, the Les Bleus were playing a rough game before that, racking up 24 fouls to Italy’s 17 and three cautions to Italy’s one.

Back to the head butting.

Materazzi has a reputation for being a punk. Unlike the rest of the Italian team, generally clean-cut, compact and handsome, he’s a lanky hothead and easily the most tattooed player in the league. OK, so he does have his daughter’s name, Anna, inked for posterity in Goth script on his neck but somehow that doesn’t really make him a sedate family man.

Still, if you watch the video, it’s hard to see it coming. Materazzi holds him back, but not forcefully, they walk alongside each other. They exchange remarks, but don’t look in any way heated. Then Zidane jogs out front, turns around and bullets his head into the Italian’s chest, sending him to the ground.

As the Italians would say, mah. It looks like we may never know what the taunt was. It’s too bad, because all we have to go on is the reaction. Zidane’s last game and he went out like a sucker, but was still awarded the Golden Ball award for top World Cup player and greeted as a hero in France. So the moral seems to be “boys will be boys.” Which reminds me why I don’t regularly follow sports.

Editor’s Note:Spot-on’s World Cup commentary isn’t limited to Nicole Martinelli. Click here for our archive from the 2006 games.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 8:08 PM | Permalink

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