Those who might not suffer from a dedication to football are probably unaware that Europe’s prime concern at this moment is the European championships, being hosted by those two bastions of reason, Austria and Switzerland.
A few minutes ago, Italy capitulated in a most uncommon manner (3-0) to a Dutch team that is normally associated with the internecine and the supine rather than the victory wine.
The first Dutch goal was allowed, unfairly, by an assistant referee whose levels of myopia rivaled Spike Lee’s levels of affection for Clint Eastwood.
The Dutch striker, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was more offside than a Woody Allen movie in a mosque.
But the goal stood and the hearts of millions of objective football followers were surged by the sort of giddying chemicals not seen since Janet Jackson tried to enliven the half time of another sporting affair.
The Italian national football teams of the last twenty, oh, with some isolated exceptions, fifty years have been responsible for swathes of talented young Italians turning to basketball and basket weaving.
Having embraced cynicism like a depressed pyromaniac embraces a lighter in bar, Italy has striven to prove that the path to victory goes through destruction. In fact, that this is a one-way street.
While occasionally fielding marginally talented players such as Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti, the Italians have generally gloried in the likes of Marco Materazzi, whose proudest moment came in the 2006 World Cup Final.
Yes, he was the national hero who provoked France’s Zinedine Zidane into attempting to headbutt him by bravely insulting Zidane’s mother and sister.
In his book, “The Italian Job” the really rather talented Italian player, Gianluca Vialli, explained, in as balanced way as he possibly could, how the thought of not losing to an Italian is a far greater motivating force than actually winning.
He described how no Italian would really contemplate the idea of trying to score a second goal, if the team was already one in front.
It is a mentality that has spawned more ugliness than all of Hollywood’s plastic surgeons.
In almost every major competition, Italy turn up looking to pull you by the tiniest hairs on your back, to kick you in the most vulnerable three inches at the back of the knees while the referee’s eyes are elsewhere.
They take more joy from stealing than from actually winning.
I went to the last World Cup Final in Berlin, a final in which Italy were the inferior team by so much that it looked as if the French team comprised world class players, while the Italians had selected their finest fantasy players- the demented-looking ones who sit on their sofas at home and moan when their points tally has been exceeded by a plumber from Calabria.
But thanks to Materazzi’s mellifluous mouth, they defeated the French on penalty kicks.
Italian players are like office workers who scheme in the confines of their little white cubicles and then smile as they send an all-staff email calling you a worthless embezzler and a cross-dressing hermaphrodite.
It was a great surprise when Italian football was the first to have multiple allegations of drug-taking leveled against it.
It was an even greater surprise that the cases of so many of those involved seemed to dissipate like sugar in a vat of swill.
It is odd that the Italians have been so consistent in this marriage to footballing hideousness when their politics offer more light-hearted entertainment than a Roman trattoria at two in the morning.
It is even stranger that perhaps the most beautiful, most cultured and most deeply enjoyable country in the world can so often put out such a collection of calculating blowfish when it comes to football.
Of course, today’s abject defeat does not mean that Italy will be ejected from the competition.
But it does mean that those who prefer some sense of grace and optimism in their football can order a grappa this evening, let it drift down their throats in one and contemplate how pleasant it must have been for the Dutch, whose football has always reached for more exalted goals, to score three times against the Italians.
Especially the one that was blatantly offside.
The Pond thanks Gabriele for his exclusive photo of some of the Bologna players the Italians left behind.