We are stuck in an interstice. Three weeks left. Some things are packed; some are sent home, some are still perched on shelves or snug in drawers. Micah’s at the Don Bosco centro estivo (summer camp), Jakob and Simon are sleeping and reading a lot (and, OK, also playing FIFA 14). Rebecca and I are scrambling to finish projects and produce some products. We are also trying to plan for future returns to Italy — in January for me, with nearly 40 DePauw student soccer-players, and perhaps all of us next June if we can work out a collaborative research project about Castiglione del Lago and Trasimeno. We don’t want to leave, really, but we are also ready for the transition to be over.
In a month’s time, I will no longer be looking out at the tile roofs of Perugia and mountains of Umbria; I will be back in a windowless office with only my memory to fenestrate the brown institutional carpet, dented steel bookshelves, dusty smell of final papers never collected, and incessant morgue-esque whir of an air conditioning system.
But not yet. Not yet.
Italy’s national team are not ready to return either. At 18:00 tonight, we’ll be joining our friends in Corso Vannucci to watch Italy vs. Uruguay. Winner advances to the next round (the prize: a dangerous encounter with Columbia); loser goes home. If there’s a draw, Italy will advance, by virtue of a tiebreaker.
We’ve been watching a lot of calcio the last two weeks; Micah has adopted Olanda (Holland) as his favorite team, because, of course it’s his ‘colore preferito‘. If somehow the Oranje of the Netherlands meet the Azzurri of Italy in the Final, he will undergo a major existential crisis. Jakob’s beloved England are out, winless (unless they carry the day tonight in a meaningless encounter with Costa Rica). The USA continues to grind out results, showing character and commitment, and finally (vs. Portugal) some composed and even devastating skill and teamwork. Oh, Cristiano—you had to ruin the party in Elfo’s at 1:50 am, when our compatriots were ready to scream with delight at a much-deserved victory. We’ve also appreciated the speed of Chile, the quick combinations of Mexico, and the counter-attacks of the Germans. Algeria has amazed, and Australia, despite not winning a game, has over-achieved. It’s been a fantastic tournament.
Tonight Cesare Prandelli, Italy’s manager, has finally given in to a formation he did not prefer: the 3-5-2 of Juventus, anchored by five bianconeri players: the ageless Buffon in goal, a big-lad defensive triad: Chiellini, Bonucci, and Barzagli, and of course, peerless Pirlo managing the midfield from in front of his back line. This formation should give Pirlo the time and space to work his magic passes, as long as Marchisio (also Juve) and Verratti on either side give him some cover (Pirlo doesn’t really defend). Darmian will raid down the right side, De Sciglio will try to contain another Juve player, Caceres of Uruguay, on the left, and hopefully Immobile and the mercurial Balotelli can combine up top to trouble what can be a shaky Uruguayan central defense.
The danger will come from Uruguay’s world-class forwards: Edinson Cavani, who looks like he stepped out of a Renaissance manly-man manual, but who is also one of the hardest-working forwards in the game, and the most dangerous man in football: Luis Suárez, who just one month out of surgery, sent England packing with another effervescent display of ruthless attacking. He’s completely fearless. Jakob and I love him for Liverpool, but he may break our hearts in the Mondiale.
Italy will have to choke off supply from their opponent’s midfield, and Italy’s defenders will have to be much more tidy than they’ve been so far—the famed lockdown stinginess of past Italy teams is not in evidence in Brazil. They’ll probably be fouling Suárez a lot, but trying not to give him the free-kicks or penalties from which he could severely injure Italy.
Italy tend to be best with their backs to the wall, when everyone has written them off. Uruguay will fight tooth and nail to the last whistle. It ought to be a great game. You should watch it.
But if you’re too busy—say, washing your hair—then you can still dabble in an Italian experience. Just nick down to the shop and get yourself some shampoo. Why not try Fructis, the official shampoo of the Italian National Team (and of Pirlo, of course)? If you lose, at least your hair will look good. And if you don’t have any hair, like Chiellini, you can be proud of your teammates’ hair. Proud to be Blue.