Alex Massie

Defending the Defence: Italian Edition

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As the build-up to the World Cup continues, my latest item at Goal Post defends Italy and the Italian way of playing football. Some of this, I confess, is based on sentiment. If Scotland cannot prevail - and it seems that some techinicality has made that more than usually impossible this year - then Italy are the european team I tend to support. Perhaps it's because I spent the first year of my life in Rome that this is the case. No memories of that time, of course, but some bond of sentiment nonetheless.

Anyway, there's a magnificent austerity to Italian football sometimes and, while one might not want to feat upon it every day, it's good to have it there nonetheless:

There is, as I say, a minimalist purity to the essence of Italian football. Score once and don't let the opposition score at all. Job done.* 

It's an admirably lean philosophy that distills the game to its simplest concept. This apparent simplicity is deceptive however. It’s exceedingly difficult to play like this and catenaccio is a stern doctrine that places enormous demands upon its adherents precisely because, at its purest, it aims to eliminate all error. 

In that sense it's a perversely ambitious way of playing football. At one end of the pitch Italy has produced a string of penalty-box cobras trained to capitalize on fleeting chances; at the other legions of defenders trained to defend the herd at all and any costs, knowing that a single mistake could invite disaster for all. 

No wonder games involving Italy are often such taut, high-wire occasions that burn with a subtle intensity. And that's why I always find Italy an intriguing team to watch. Fascinating, even. 

And it works. Excluding penalty shoot-outs,** you know how many games Italy have lost in the World Cup since 1982? Four. That’s a better record than any other major country. Better than Brazil (five losses). Better than Germany (eight). Much better than Argentina (nine). It’s a remarkable record that deserves, I think, to be more widely appreciated than it is. 

*Fancifully, I like to imagine that when Italy win a match 2-0 there’s some grey-bearded football philosopher in Bologna or Verona or Milan complaining at all the wasted effort that went into scoring that second goal.

**Italy are almost as bad at penalties as England. I have no idea why this should be the case.

Whole thing here.