36 hours have passed since millions of Italians watched the national team get eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
Here in Italy, the media and the pundit class have joined ordinary fans in criticizing the team. First in the line of fire is Cesare Prandelli, the coach, rightly taken to task for dubious roster selection, poor match management, improvised tactical changes, and an inability to bind together a group of “senators” (i.e. veterans) and relatively inexperienced youngsters. His resignation in the aftermath of the Uruguay loss, came not a moment too soon for many Italians.
Balotelli, the only player in the squad with potential to be a game-changer, has also come in for plenty of criticism. Reading the papers, watching endless debates on TV, and talking with fans, it appears that many Italians, including vocal defenders of Super Mario, are disappointed with the star striker’s weak performance. Sadly, some racist Italians have taken to the web and social media to insult Balotelli for his blackness.
But I wouldn’t go so far as saying that Balotelli is being blamed for the World Cup debacle. Honest observers recognize that the failure of Italy’s 2014 World Cup campaign has multiple causes, not least the pathetic 0-1 loss to Costa Rica last week. As historian John Foot explained in an excellent column, there is a structural rot in Italian football that needs to be addressed. From corruption and mismanagement to suffering youth systems, club rivalries, and outdated stadiums; the list of major problems is quite long and vexing.
While this analysis is legitimate, there seems to be a consensus among Italians (and not a few neutrals) that the loss to Uruguay was an outright robbery perpetrated against an ordinary team.
The first half of Tuesday’s match was played evenly, with Italy rarely in trouble. Pirlo had a dangerous free kick saved by Muslera and Verratti distinguished himself as the best player on the pitch, weaving in and out of Uruguay’s workman-like midfield with creativity and dynamism. With a draw enough to see the Azzurri through to the next round, Italy was in control.
Then, a few minutes into the second half, the Mexican referee, Rodriguez Moreno, decided the match. In an inexplicably absurd decision, he sent off Marchisio with a straight red card for a normal tackle that showed no malice and, at best, deserved a yellow. What made this refereeing decision so outrageous is that previous Uruguayan fouls of a similar ilk had not been punished with any cards.
Moreno’s call transformed the match. With nearly the entire second half still to play in the heat of Natal, the Azzurri were a man down, less able to deal with fatigue, and psychologically shaken. Uruguay, on the other hand, seized on the opportunity and began dominating the match. Even so, only two goal-scoring chances came out of this advantage.
Perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of his earlier outrage, Moreno then took center stage again. Suarez, the recidivist, sunk his fangs into Chiellini’s shoulder and then fell to the ground, theatrically, as if felled by a sniper’s bullet. The referee awarded a free kick to Italy, but did not send Suarez off despite Chiellini showing Suarez’s dental mold chiseled into his shoulder area. Surprisingly, the assistant referee provided no assistance.
Two things happened at this point. Instead of playing the final 12 minutes or so 10 vs 10, the Azzurri had to labor on a man down with players cramping and visibly tiring. Then, 100 seconds after the Suarez bite, the Italians lost their concentration defending the corner kick that produced Godin’s winning goal.
Most Italians recognize the 2014 national team was an ordinary one. Fans and pundits admit that Balotelli, Immobile, Cassano, Thiago Motta, De Sciglio and others put in sub-par performances. But people also know a robbery when they see one. And the culprit was Rodriguez Moreno. Curiously, another referee named Moreno (from Ecuador) also sent the Italians home from the 2002 World Cup. He is currently serving a long prison sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs.
How does football shape national narratives in Latin America? Why is the game so closely tied to masculinity and femininity? How can studying fútbol advance our understanding of Latin American history? These and other questions were part of the Football Scholars Forum recent discussion of Joshua Nadel’s Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America.
The author, an assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University, shared his experience of writing a book that the publisher expected to have cross-over appeal. In addition to tackling questions from the thirteen participants online, Nadel also suggested future directions for research on Latin American fútbol.
An audio recording of the event can be downloaded here.
The next gathering of the Football Scholars Forum will be on March 26 for a paper on Zambian football by Hikabwa Chipande, a PhD candidate in African history at Michigan State University. For more information about this event, please contact Alex Galarza.
Luis Suarez has been banned for 8 games in the English Premier League for the alleged racist abuse of Patrice Evra. The nature of the exchange between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra has not yet been disclosed. Luis Suarez is appealing. Here is a brief reminder of a less well known contribution Luis Suarez made to the World Cup in South Africa. A post on Luis Suarez will follow once details of the accusation against Suarez have been released by the English FA.
Uruguay’s fee for materializing on the Ice in Estonia.
9. The first black international in either the World Cup or the Olympics was Uruguay’s José Leandro Andrade.
8. Uruguay claims four world titles — two World Cups (1930, 1950) and two Olympic golds (1924, 1928).
7. Estadio Centenario in Montevideo was the first monumental stadium built outside Britain (capacity 100,000). It was finished just in time to host the first World Cup final in 1930.
6. The United States won third place in Uruguay in 1930 — its best ever World Cup result.
5. When Uruguay defeated Brazil in front of 200,000 people at Rio’s Maracanã stadium in 1950, ‘there was sadness so great, so profound,’ Pelé said, ‘that it seemed like the end of a war with Brazil the loser and many people dead.’
4. Hungary’s ‘Golden Team’ defeated Uruguay 4-2 (aet) at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland — a match remembered for its compelling drama and bone-crunching violence.
3. I don’t remember the 1970 World Cup, the last time Uruguay reached the semis.
1. Eduardo Galeano, born and raised in Montevideo, penned my favorite football book of all time: Soccer in Sun and Shadow.
Top 10 Reasons to Support the Netherlands
10. The Dutch East India Company is dead.
9. Brilliant Orange by David Winner — a must-read about Dutch football and society.
7. Van Basten, Rijkaard, Gullit — the Holy Trinity of post-Cruyff era.
6. The 1978 World Cup final between Argentina and the Netherlands (3-1, aet) was the first final I watched on TV.
5. The idea of Ajax, if not the reality of Total Football.
4. Van Basten’s goal against USSR in the 1988 European Championship final
3. The most consistently inspired and successful player of the year, at national team and club level: Wesley Sneijder.
2. The Netherlands have never won the World Cup.
1. Johann Cruyff — when I saw him in the film Il Profeta del gol I had the first of my ongoing revelations about the living cult of football. In his honor, I played with jersey number 14.
The wires are reporting Oscar “El Maestro” Tabarez has already named his Uruguay team for the opening match against France on Friday. This is a classic opening gambit designed to take advantage of current French insecurities.
The French don’t know what they are doing in South Africa. “El Maestro” has just signaled the Uruguayans do. “The system we have chosen can adapt to the different things we could face against France,” said “El Maestro”.
Mauricio Victorino who plays for Universidad de Chile and midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios (pictured above) who enforces the midfield for Penarol in Montevideo, are solid squad players, but not stars. So what is behind El Maestro’s opening gambit? What is he really saying by including Vicotorino and Rios? What is he really up to?
The reflex among some Uruguayan commentators and bloggers is to express disbelief and sigh. But El Maestro is thinking deep here, which is what he has to do if Uruguay are going to go deep into the tournament and win the World Cup.
Uruguay do not need stars to beat France is also the message here.