Goal.com's Subhankar Mondal recollects the last time the world champions faced the Dutch in a friendly international and wonders whether history could repeat itself.....So you knew Italy were going to win the World Cup in 2006, didn't you? You also knew that the Calciopoli scandal would have a positive effect on the squad, that it would bring the players together and give them a reason to function as a unit. You also knew that Italy would keep clean sheets in four matches and you certainly knew that they would defeat hosts Germany and former world champions France. Oh, and you knew from the start that Oedipus had killed his father and would marry his own mother.
No, you didn't, you certainly didn't! You would have been crazy to even imagine that Italy would come anywhere close to conquering the world. You certainly thought that Calciopoli would rip apart Italian football and with it the Italian squad; that Alessandro Del Piero would disappoint again and so would Francesco Totti; that the defence looked capable but the midfield and the attack didn't; that with the Dutch looking menacing, the English finally possessing a fine first XI, the Spanish again brimming with quality, Zizou going for the last hurrah with France, Brazil blessed with the magical quartet and Argentina with the best bunch of talent, Italy were as far from winning the World Cup as you are from dating Angelina Jolie.
But if you could realise the true identity of Oedipus from the very start, then you are certainly better than Sherlock Holmes; and if you are, then perhaps you would have also identified the rather spooky similarity of the situation of the Italian squad then and now. Four years ago Italy were in depression as a disastrous European championship campaign in 2004 and below par performances in the World Cup qualifiers had put the Azzurri far behind in the queue for the most prestigious silverware in the world.
Same Lippi, Same Approach?
Italy confront the Netherlands in Pescara on Saturday in what promises to be a sensational match. Of course, it is a big clash and - ahem! ahem! - a potential dress rehearsal for next summer's biggest game (the World Cup final, you silly!) but it is perhaps justifiably overshadowed by two other potential dress rehearsals for the final: Brazil v England and Spain v Argentina, both on Saturday.
Which Italy coach Marcello Lippi would not mind as long as the results are in his favour. When on November 12, 2005 Italy faced the Dutch in Amsterdam, no one really expected the result to be so overwhelmingly in their favour. A 3-1 win 'unblocked' them and they would then go onto blast Germany 4-1 in March.
Could it have a similar effect this time? One of the editors at Goal.com thinks that Lippi does indeed believe so, personally telling this columnist, "The suspicious among us may say that Lippi deliberately picked Holland for this reason." Which could be true and indeed like a bank robber using the same methodology for his tasks, perhaps Lippi is trying to make the current atmosphere as it was in November 2005 (subtracting the match-fixing scam of course).
But things have changed in terms of players. Totti, Alessandro Nesta and Filippo Inzaghi have retired, Del Piero will follow them soon and Luca Toni and Gennaro Gattuso are past their prime.
It might be foolish at this stage to suggest that Italy will win the World Cup but it would be unwise to rule them out. Remember you did something similar at this stage four years ago and look where it ended you: a few hundred pounds poorer because you lost the bet.
Subhankar Mondal, Goal.com