Italy's football widows prepared to play away

As World Cup fever grips men, their women have other ideas
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The Independent Online
WHEN Italian males settle down in front of their televisions to watch World Cup games this week, they may not be feeling as confident as they look. Not, naturally, because they fear that Italy will be beaten: that would never occur to them.

No, behind the Frascati-inspired camaraderie a more sinister doubt will be lurking: will their loved ones be among the 27 per cent of wives and girlfriends who told a survey for Noi Donne (We Women) magazine that they would not hesitate to use those precious 90 minute breaks to betray their partners?

If an impressive 48 per cent of women said they would be standing by their man and television set for the whole two weeks, one in three of these admitted that she would only do so to avoid family rows and post- Mondiale recriminations.

From the remaining 52 per cent came a distinct and collective sigh of relief: 15 per cent of them couldn't wait for a night out on the empty, and blissfully male-free town; 10 per cent planned to exploit their loved one's inattention to escape to some isolated hideaway for two weeks; 5 per cent said they would catch up on missed films and plays, and 1 per cent said they would rather spend the World Cup period playing bar billiards than watching 22 men sweating over a ball.

Then there are the 27 per cent who feel the coming weeks are a prime opportunity for kick-starting tired libidos with a World Cup fling: of these, 16 per cent said they would not be averse to a little dalliance on the sidelines, while 11 per cent said that they would be going flat out to get the ball in the net.

If this extreme reaction smacks of vendetta, you need look no further than the RAI state broadcasting company's World Cup advertising campaign to understand why so many Italian women have a bone to pick with football fanaticism.

In one advertisement, mugshots of a clearly disgruntled blonde appear next to the words, "profession: girlfriend. Behaviour: hammer-action. Distinguishing features: never lets up. Typical remarks: `Let's go out, let's go out, let's go out'."

Flashing beneath is the warning: "Avoid her".

In another, a doting mother is described as "asphyxiating" and "highly dangerous" owing to her tendency to obstruct the flow of play with offers of food.

The advertising agency McCann Erikson has defended the campaign, describing it as "clearly ironic". For many Italians - and not only women - the irony is outweighed by the offensive stereotype. According to Vera Slepoj, a psychologist: "Those ads simply throw up a huge barrier between men and women. And they're so aggressive."

If, as seems likely, the campaign swells the ranks of Italian women out for a good time over the World Cup period, it may also provide some help and inspiration for those would-be cuckolders who have been wondering just where they are going to find an available alternative when Italian males en masse have switched TV sets on and love lives off.

In the third advertisement of the series, a recently-jilted boyfriend is pushed roughly aside by his best mate for whom watching the match is infinitely more important than offering comfort and succour.

Even the most enterprising women are unlikely to get everything they want. The Italian team captain, Paolo Maldini, topped Noi Donne's list of most fancied footballers, with the Brazilian striker Ronaldo at number two.

Italy and Brazil will no doubt ensure their stars' attention is not distracted from the French fields so, no matter how fancy their footwork, it is unlikely they will be able to capitalise on their popularity, or that Noi Donne readers will be able to fulfil their fantasies.

Still, women may reap subtle revenge simply by leaving a copy of the Noi Donne survey on the coffee table in the living room as they head for the front door.

Crucial football may be, but Italian male pride should never be underestimated. The suggestion of a betrayal in the offing may revive a flagging passion - at least when Maldini's men are not on the pitch.