|La Gazzetta dello Sport brims with admiration|
In fact, yours truly also polished off an article that had Italy "fighti[ng] for fluency" less than a week before the big tournament. Of course, my less circumspect side wanted to write an article with green and red letters, with about two dozen exclamation marks (six of them side-by-side), but I will save the font-porn until Italy get out of their group.
The truth is with Italy you never know what you're going to get. It wasn't as if I was trying to insure myself against humiliation if Italy were to do well at the tournament; it was more that I was genuinely bewildered as to how a team that was struggling to cohere a few days before the tournament would fare against the Spanish. I'm happy that they fared well despite a few incidents like when Mario Balotelli heard Zack Morris call '"time out" a few inches from goal.
There has been much said about the game. And why not? I personally would like to say Antonio Di Natale's goal in the 60th minute was a vindication of Italian football's core truth, which is not solely rotten like the latest betting scandal. Instead, it also proffers us a man like Di Natale, ensconced at a club like Udinese, having turned down an offer from Juventus a few seasons ago. At 34 and with 23 goals this past season, he came off the bench, and with his first touch showed Balotelli how it's done. He knows where the goal is even when facing the redoubtable Iker Casillas. Seriously, how tidy and sweet was that finish? Beautiful.
Yet, I urge cautious optimism. If Italy are notorious slow-starters, they have also had breezy false starts before. In Euro1996, they looked to be on course to qualify for the next round after beating Russia 2-1 in their opening match; they didn't. In World Cup 2002, they comfortably beat Ecuador 2-0, but only just made it out of their group.
Croatia await Italy next. Remember Italy haven't managed to beat the team since Croatia's independence, and Croatia also defeated Italy in their second group game at the 2002 World Cup (albeit controversially).
More important than whether Daniele De Rossi should play in the center of defence (where he was outstanding by the way) or whether Di Natale should start (he should by the way) is how Italy approach their next game mentally.
"Our next game will be the most important of the group," said coach Cesare Prandelli, echoing what he told World Soccer a few months ago as well.
"Croatia are a dangerous and unpredictable side."
Indeed, Prandelli seems to get it. Beat Croatia, and virtually guarantee your progress to the next round. Anything less will make things a bit complicated. It would be a shame to squander all the progress of 90 minutes against the Spaniards. Hopefully, Italy build on what they have started.
But yes, before I forget, a very emphatic "Forza Azzurri!" from me!