25 June 2006, 08:33
When I was in Naples last summer, I witnessed a lot of stereotypical behavior. I saw women being whistled at by gangs of men. I saw seas of vespas ignoring the normal laws of traffic. One afternoon, I watched some kids playing soccer in a public square. A big kid (he was built like Ronaldo) dribbled through three or four players. It was a fantastic display. Finally, a defender stuck out his leg, and chopped him down. The big kid hit the pavement and rolled around in agony holding his leg. The game stopped for a few minutes to allow him time for his personal drama, but no one seemed too concerned. He got up, and everyone resumed as if nothing had happened. Italia!
I’ve never been to Australia, but I assume everyone there is friendly, direct, and a little gruff. The kids probably play rugby or Aussie Rules. When they go down, they probably jump right up again. The Socceroos, who face Italy today, are more than a little gruff. They are a bruising team. They establish their physical presence in the back, and then barrel forward, looking to muscle the ball directly into the goal.
The Italians, we know, do not stand too much pushing around. They respond by hitting back or hitting the floor. They have players like Gennaro Gattuso, the stocky battering ram who combines deft skill with thuggish aggression, and Daniele DeRossi who was suspended for four games for his elbow to Brian McBride’s face. This could be an epic battle, a chaotic match like yesterday’s four red-card Portugal-Netherlands showdown. Will the Italians get rattled like the did against the Americans? Or can they keep their composure against the boys from down under?
In the other match, Switzerland is missing Philippe Senderos, who dislocated his shoulder. They face Ukraine, led by Andriy Shevchenko, who has not played his best. Will this be his marquee performance?
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