Italy is a strange country, football mad and quite good at playing it but afraid of losing even when playing against S. Marino (no offense).
Only once, during our home world cup in 1990, we considered ourselves as favorites and played as such. We put together a perfect streak of victories, we played well and confidently and with little pain managed to reach the semi-finals: Italy-Argentina.
The game was scheduled for the 3rd of July 1990 in Naples: a warm day in a wonderful and amazing Italian summer full of magic nights (G. Nannini & E. Bennato world cup song “An Italian Summer — Magic Nights” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTbMwJMqilI ).
I was then a 12 years kid enjoying the summer break on the seaside. Together with friends and relatives we headed to a pizzeria for what was then a typical public vision of football matches. I still remember the “strange” way of working of that pizzeria that night:
- food and beverages are served before 20:30 (kick off time)
- beverages can be collected at the bar between 21:15 and 21:30
- food and beverages are served as usual after the end of the game
Cooks, waiters and the owners did not want to lose even a split second of the match. The same was true for all Italy — a crazy, divided country for once all pushing in the same direction: “forza Azzurri” and “forza Italia” were the standard shouts all along the peninsula. The pizzeria was packed well before 20:00 and all chairs were already pointing towards the “big” screen (maybe a 36" CRT… technology changes pretty quickly).
I think I never ate a pizza so quickly as that day: as I got it, I blurped it in and focused my attention back to the screen, on the calm voice of Bruno Pizzul, being barely able to communicate with the outer world.
The Mameli’s hymn, the focused faces of the Italian footballers with their relatively frail and normal bodies (quite a difference to today’s football players), the warmth of the public, the confidence and the tension intermingled in the air and, for once, the proud feeling to be Italian.
The game started well with Italy getting an early lead thanks to, once again in the tournament, a Schillaci’s goal: the pizzeria (and all the country) erupted in a joyful cry and the dead weight on my stomach lifted considerably. I started breathing again and at half time I even managed to smile and chit chat a bit on how poorly Vialli was playing.
Uff, everything was going well and seemed smooth but then the referee blew his whistle again and Argentina started pushing more and more, with Italian players getting behind, unable to run anymore. Unfortunately from my selfish perspective, Argentina managed to score with Caniggia and the help of the Italian defense: the atmosphere in the pizzeria turned considerably and discussions on how the trainer Vicini should change the team to win the match fired up. Italy kept on suffering and I was suffering with it. Nothing more happened during the regular times.
We went on to the extra times in which Baggio tried to close the match with a good free kick but Goycoechea, the Argentinian keeper, denied him and started becoming my and Italy’s nightmare.
Even the extra times drew to a close: 1-1 was the result and penalty kicks were needed to decide which time was going to play in the world cup final.
tum, tum, tum, tum: my heart beat went up considerably.
Penalty kicks always fascinated me: it is a struggle with no predictable winner, a struggle in which emotions flow from peak to trough in a matter of seconds.
At every round, you hope your kicker will make it and your goalkeeper will save it: the old latin proverb mors tua vita mea renovates each time while pressure builds up.
Franco Baresi was the first on the spot: I together with all Italy kept my breath and managed to inhale some air only when the ball rolled in the net.
Serrizuela was next but batman Zenga did not manage to hold it.
Roberto Baggio: goal!
Burruchaga: goal :-(
De Agostini: goal!
Olarticoechea: goal :-(
Donadoni: saved by Goycoechea — shouts and cries all around
Maradona: goal :-(
Serena: saved again by Goycoechea
Silence from TV.
Silence in the pizzeria.
Silence in the streets.
Silence in all country.
And then tears started flowing from my eyes: a dream, my dream, was just destroyed.
I remember walking home in total silence — no cars, no willingness from anybody to talk.
The silence and the bitter taste of my own tears: that’s what I remember most of that world cup semi-final between Italy and Argentine in Naples on the 3rd of July 1990.
I saw my national team winning the world cup twice in my lifetime and it was sublime.
I saw my national team lose three times from the spot and the suffering was atrocius.