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Why Are Italy So Many People's Second Favourite Team?

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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We haven't commissioned any polls from Red C but strong anecdotal evidence suggests that Italy are the second favourite team of a great number of people.

In our Euro 2016/house party analogy, Italy were the jaded and cynical veteran of too many house parties who avers beforehand that he's not feeling the best and won't be staying long. He ends up staying most of the night.

Listen to us discuss Italy - and Wales - on today's edition of the Racket. 

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They have zero plucky underdog charm. They are the most 'been there, done that' of footballing countries. Their football is often stereotyped as negative and they retreat into a defensive possum-like shell at the drop of a hat. Their most famous football writer (Gianni Brera - 'a great writer who just happened to write about football') is the author of the theory that the perfect game of football would end 0-0.

They are breathtakingly cynical. Their centre-halves defend corners the way filthy corner-backs keep tabs on opposition dangermen, namely, by gripping a fistful of jersey as early and as often as possible. Their club game is comically corrupt. A complete history of the scandals in Italian football would be too much for one man to take on and would stretch into the thousands of pages.

We, of course, have special reasons to be grateful to the current Italy team, in particular their manager Antonio Conte. His decision to give a large number of squad players a run in the final group game certainly opened the door for Ireland.


However, from an objective point of view, even this could surely be placed in a negative light. A team lounging in their deck chairs and not bothering their backsides once their mission is accomplished. This practice has a long and deep history in Italian football. The Turks were certainly sore about it. John Foot, the author of Calcio, a wide-ranging study of Italian football, explicitly alluded to this tendency to scorn the concept of 'playing for pride alone'.


This mentality is not usually applauded in Ireland or the neighbouring island.

End of season match fixing can take on another form, which has been the object of constant discussion and outrage over the years. They typical scenario is the following. A big team, with nothing left to play for, is playing a small team in relegation trouble. Over the years, the small teams have often won these games, leading to frequent accusations of agreements between players or clubs.

The reality is more simple, and perhaps more shocking. Quite simply, nobody in Italy expects the big team to try too hard in these cases. No agreement is needed: it comes naturally. In fact, in Italy it is often seen as scandalous, as outside Italian canons of fair play, to put in too much effort in games of this kind. It is rare for someone to play for pride alone. Useless effort is frowned upon.

And yet for all that, they still appear to be beloved of many football fans. The evidence from numerous pubs in Dublin would suggest that people were rooting for the Italians.

Why is this so?


There is an intoxicating air of romance and intrigue about them. They have a way of projecting a sense of drama and intensity. It conveys itself through their pumped-up goal-celebrations and the gesticulations of their immaculately dressed managers. This is a culture where football is taken incredibly seriously.

Their exaltation of defenders over forwards makes them unique and interesting. Unusually for a team partial towards defensive tactics, they are highly technically proficient. Even their anonymous players are more comfortable on the ball than England's luminaries. Their greatest wins - over Brazil in 1982, over Holland in 2000, over Germany in 2006 and 2012 - are inevitably tactical masterpieces, triumphs of footballing intelligence.

But then there is a dispute as to whether it is appropriate to describe the Italians as defensive. As Foot wrote 'when Italian teams have been described as defensive, that accusation has usually been wrong. Italian teams have not been defensive. They have, quite simply, been much better at defending than everyone else.'


Or it could be down to this generation of twenty-somethings' nostalgia for the 1990s, and the sight of James Richardson sitting in front of a gelatio with the Corriere dello Sport folded over on the table. Either way, there is something deeply alluring about Italy which is hard to pinpoint.

Ladbrokes Bet of the Day

On our podcast, we are bullishly confident that the Welsh will sling the dreary Portuguese out on their ear this Wednesday. We will be treated to the incredible spectacle of Wales - the so-called New Zealand of the northern hemisphere, the only country in Europe of which it could be said that rugby is the national sport - in the European championship final.


However, we also fancy them to lose the final to whoever emerges from the other semi-final. Wales to lose the Euro 2016 final.

Read more: Ger Loughnane Mounts Savage Attack On Galway Players And Ridicules Their 'Fr.Trendy' Manager


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