In the summer of 2006 Italy
Although France’s all too swift campaign was far more shambolic, their behaviour far more unprofessional and their Coach far loopier, the similarities between Italy and France at this World Cup have actually been quite numerous. The obvious one is that they both ended up rock-bottom of their respective groups, an embarrassment that will surely carry a prolonged sting given so much more was expected of the 2006 finalists. Neither of them won a game either, of course, with their performances, although perhaps for differing reasons, possessing a distinct air of disinterest. The French players’ seemingly unbearable hatred towards their Coach would explain their lack of interest and desire, as it goes without saying players need to want to play for, and have respect for their leader, yet such a dire in-house situation was not the case for the Italians. Their listless performances throughout all three of their games, aside from the last 20 minutes against Slovakia, were possibly down to complacency. As World Champions they perhaps had too much lazy self-assurance and an ill-advised belief that just because they were the reigning champions, things would happen for them without having to work too hard. This attitude perhaps translated into the utterly confounding lackadaisical performances on the pitch.
A further pertinent comparison can be made in terms of both nations’ decisions to announce a changing of the guard in the build-up to the tournament. The French Football Federation somehow came to the conclusion it would be sensible to disclose their plans to replace Raymond Domenech with Laurent Blanc at the end of the tournament. Similarly, the Italians also opted to divulge the news that the World Cup would be Marcello Lippi’s last stint in charge, and he would be replaced by Fiorentina Coach Cesare Prandelli come the end of July. Whether the grandees of the Italian and French games thought their decisions to make their plans public would be advantageous for their teams at the tournament is unknown, but in light of what has happened with regard to their disastrous World Cup campaigns, this possibly coincidental factor is bound to be analysed. Surely it cannot help that the current coach’s successor is already hovering eagerly in the shadows, just waiting to take on the baton whilst a World Cup is taking place? The psychological affect this may or may not have had on the players and the incumbent coach is up for speculation, but can it really be a coincidence?
Almost unthinkably, Spain could also fail to reach the round of 16, as they have to beat an impressively potent Chile team this evening to be sure of progressing. Having been conquered by Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland outfit in the first group game, Vincent Del Bosque’s men are perilously placed in Group H. Is it really conceivable that all three of France, the current World Champions Italy and the European Champions Spain could all be dumped out of this year’s World Cup at the first hurdle?