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Sunday, January 29, 2023

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The sky fell on Italy

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Now they celebrate as if all hell had broken loose, but at the same time heaven had fallen over all of Italy. As bright blue as the Squadra Azzurra jerseys. Because since the hard-fought penalty win in the EM semifinals at Wembley, there has been a state of emergency between Bolzano and Palermo.

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The word applies, because in Italy that can only be achieved by football. At least in ordinary times, Italy really only exists as a land of longing. Especially for the northerners. For its residents, however, Italy itself is first divided into individual parts. In the spheres of the family, the company, the friends, in local associations and in the worst case in the own region.

Whenever Italians speak their original idiom, a genuine Neapolitan and a veritable Venetian get along less well than, say, Bavarians and Dutch. It was not until the 1950s that television established its Tuscan character as a common language across the country.

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Nevertheless, Sicily was long considered “Africa” by proud Romans, and many supporters of the racist Lega continue to dream of the separation of the prosperous north from the poorer south of the boot.

“Heroic” athletes are celebrated

But now: “Italia eroica a Wembley” is the headline of the largest sports newspaper in the country. In fact, it always resembles a miracle – the enthusiasm for victorious European and World Championships by the Squadra Azzurra, the sky-blue national football team. It thus gathers all of Italy into a united nation. The Squadra becomes “La Nazionale”.

And it’s the same Tifosi who, as fans of Inter Milan or AS Roma, for example, detest their national competitors so much that they don’t keep their fingers crossed for the long-time Italian champions in Champions League duels between Juventus Turin and Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but often the foreign opponents.

Of course, Italians are proud of the symbols of their own culture that are valued around the world. On pizza and pasta, fashion and engines, on Leonardo da Vinci, Sophia Loren or Elsa Ferrante. But at the same time they, who have always lived in a heartland of international tourism, are so used to this pride that it also offers them the opportunity to be open to the world. For a long time, the Italians were therefore considered to be the most Europe-friendly people.

But this self-confidence has been severely broken in recent decades by their own malaises – corruption, bureaucratism, mafia, mismanagement. And the break has opened the gates for populism, growing xenophobia and political smear theater (from Berlusconi to Salvini). Last but not least, thanks to Merkel’s austerity policy, the Germans became more and more scapegoats for their own economic failure.

One shouldn’t overstrain the parallels between football and politics. Although the later times of Merkel and Löw, for example, now suggest this very much. But the current upswing in Italy under the government of Mario Draghi, which with the help of a few billions in the EU already resembles a small economic miracle, fits in with the current football euphoria.

Italy’s coach Roberto Mancini and Prime Minister Draghi are also quite similar in their logically controlled deliberation. In addition, there is a fire in the Squadra Azzurra, a speed in heads and legs, a team spirit, everything that the Germans were so completely lacking. Spain was better at Wembley for a long time, but Italy was stronger in the end. Another game like that and it could be enough to make an Italian summer fairy tale.

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