By Jeremy Lim
We Italy fans might never have seen it coming, but in hindsight, the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain takes away no credit from the team in my mind.
Going into the Euro 2012 final in Kiev, it was impossible for myself and other local fans not to get caught up in the wave of optimism surrounding the Azzurri as they prepared to pull off the minor miracle of wresting the European title away from the reigning champions.
Who would have faulted me for being quietly optimistic that against all expectations, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy could go all the way, this after entering the tournament on the back of a humiliating 3-0 friendly loss to Russia amidst the cloud of a domestic match-fixing scandal looming constantly over their heads?
My inner fan knew Italy would not be Italy if we had not been crucified by the media and written off before the tournament even began. Looking back now, how else could the Azzurri deserve to more praise for everything they achieved, despite beating Spain this morning proving a bridge too far? After all, up till the final, hadn't our team been everything beautiful the Spaniards were supposed to be?
It was thrilling to witness how the squad overcame the face of adversity on the way to claiming the scalps of England and Germany. Indeed, we handed our close European rivals a footballing lesson or two; Roy Hodgson’s men might have won the media battle, but were outplayed in every department in-game to make victory for us in Singapore that much sweeter. The win over the all-conquering German team proved similar much to our delight, the added bonus being able to see what a gem of a player supporters have to cheer on in enigma Mario Balotelli.
These are the moments of Euro 2012 that will remain most firmly etched in my mind, all blurring into the image of the players rallying in dark times when others saw no hope in them, to present their loyal supporters with the last laugh.
Alas that Italy, who had schooled the English and the Germans in matters so thoroughly, ended up acquiring a lesson or two against those who firstly defined the meaning of the word ‘team’ in modern football. Watching the final at a packed SAFRA Tampines ‘Live’ screening, there was a sense of inevitability on what was to come when David Silva opened the Spanish floodgates by nodding home the opener in fortuitous circumstances. Italy nevertheless did us supporters proud by giving as good as she got, only running out of steam following our opponent’s second goal.
There were heartbreaking scenes across the pitch after the final whistle went. The players, who honestly maintained a similar belief as us that they could have won at the start of the match, began breaking down into tears.
As a fan, the players’ efforts and conviction ensured they had nothing to be ashamed off; if anything, they remain champions in our eyes as they went about making us proud to be their followers.
There can be nothing more we would like to see than the men hold their heads high instead. After all, this had been their tournament, an opportunity for everyone to answer the criticism of detractors first-hand by proving their worth on the field.
Leonardo Bonucci is a winner, a growing and relentless presence in defence in the mould of the magnificent Italian stoppers of old; Alessandro Diamanti is a winner, going from being a ‘West Ham reject’ to scoring the decisive penalty against England; Prandelli is a winner, bravely sticking by his principles throughout as he stood at the forefront of an Azzurri revolution to take them into a modern era; above all, Balotelli is a winner, no longer the baby he is often maligned as by the British media.
With that, where does that leave talisman Andrea Pirlo in my heart? Having already tasted international success at the World Cup in 2006, it is a pity the playmaker only had his talent completely recognised in what is likely to be his last Azzurri tournament. Taking on the entirety of burden leading Italy on her mission to defy the odds, it is a feat that elevates him to legendary status, the tales of his contributions to carry on being passed down in time for generations alongside those of Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro.
This Italy story is one full of unsung heroes, a journey I will remember being as memorarable as her World Cup triumph six years ago. My counterparts and I will be eagerly waiting for more as the team grows from strength to strength, ever more aware of their own abilities. Dai Azzurri! With this victory even in defeat, we’re so proud of you!