The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Juventus Legend Alessandro Del Piero v Germany
I would never have passed the Norman Tebbit Cricket Test. Although I was born & raised in England, I have never been English. Although my entire schooling was in a south London comprehensive, my childhood idols were Roberto Bettega, Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci. Although I had Radio 1 permanently on in my house, my early musical preferences always leaned towards the poetry of Lucio Battisti, the rock ‘n’ roll of Vasco Rossi & the blues of early Zucchero. And, although I was born in the shadow of Highbury, I was actually born in the Italian ghetto that was the Angel, Islington in the 1960’s.
This Italianism was drummed into me from a very early age by my immigrant parents. The virtuous immigrant ethics of hard work and integrity have never left me and for this I thank my mum & dad.
More importantly, however, my footballing schooling has developed from 1970, when my dad would come home from work in the middle of the night, switch on the TV (waking the house up in the process) and watch Gigi Riva, Giacinto Facchetti and the ridiculous “staffetta” (relay), meaning Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola only played one half each, at the Mexico World Cup. I would sit in his lap and he would explain why the catenaccio way was the beautiful game, not the rubbish Brazil was playing, said this disciple of Gianni Brera. I was hooked.
World Cups and European championships came and went & I watched every one from my living room. 1982 was a haze of tedium, happiness & O’Levels. Knackered from studying through my exams, when O’Levels were proper exams, I watched the non-exploits of Paolo Rossi & Co in the opening round of that year’s World Cup.
I then watched the next phases all the way to ultimate glory in the company of my elderly great uncle, who would wax lyrical about what it meant to be an immigrant and how football linked into that. But he didn’t talk about football and Gli Azzurri in sporting terms, but more about the identity it gave to the disparate Italian people and about basking in the common cause of putting one over the Inglesi.
My one regret was not going to Italy for Italia 90 – circumstance prevailed and I couldn’t go. However, I more than made up for it by going to the USA and seeing the Boys In Blue somehow reaching the final in Pasadena in 1994 and doing the same in Rotterdam for Euro 2000. These were fantastic experiences but ultimately they ended in failure.
However, 2006 looked, smelled and tasted different. The corruption scandal was brewing, implicating many of the players involved in the Italian squad. As in 1982, when a betting scandal and abusive journalism pulled the squad into a tight-knit group, Marcello Lippi managed to use the furore outside the camp for the greater good. Let’s be honest, the world Cup winner is seldom the best team and Italy in 2006 was no exception. But we had destiny and an offensive media in our favour. We got to the semi-final against Germany and we are Germany’s nemesis.
Perhaps the most joyous moment in my footballing life was missed while thinking about penalty takers and how crap Buffon was against the spot-kick.
Which brings us neatly to the 4th July 2006. We had managed to get tickets for the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund, where Germany or West Germany had never lost a match. It was an incredible atmosphere, similar in noise to the Barcelona – Sampdoria European Cup Final at Wembley, and there were never any sign of trouble. The match was a wonderful occasion between two fairly well-matched teams. Until the 118th minute.
In the crowd, we were resigned to penalties and Germany had to lose sometime, didn’t they? The ball floats over from an Italian corner, someone plays about with it just outside the area, seemingly backheels it and someone else shoots. Who are our penalty takers …… What? It’s gone in? We’ve scored? I didn’t see it, did you? Who was it?
I had missed Grosso’s goal. Perhaps the most joyous moment in my footballing life was missed while thinking about penalty takers and how crap Buffon was against the spot-kick.
However, indescribable joy would only be postponed for a minute or so. I looked around and saw my dearest friends and ICD stalwarts John, his son Romano and nephew Riccardo crying their eyes out – they’d seen the goal!!!
I was back watching the game as Il Capitano Cannavaro headed the ball away and then won the ensuing tackle, he gave it to Totti who passed it on to Gilardino (GO INTO THE CORNER, YOU IDIOT!!!!!!). Juventus's Alessandro Del Piero came from absolutely nowhere to his shoulder, Gila saw him, played him in and DP played one of those inside-out shots into the top corner to seal the game.
A classic Italian counter-attacking goal my dad had taught me to appreciate all those years ago in the hottest of cauldrons in a World Cup semi-final. It literally doesn’t get any better.
Relative to that, the final on the 9th July was a let-down, a putrid stench of corporate hospitality and little atmosphere. Although I had a ticket in the nominally Italian “end”, I was surrounded by around 50 Venezuelans, enjoying their evening. We won the World Cup, it was great, we drank every drink in the bar afterwards and it was especially good going into work the next day.
But the 4th of July would always mean so much more.
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