Italy vs England? It's hardly a level playing field

They're more stylish than us, they have better food and their footballers have nicer hair. Will Dean reckons the Italians' national flair gives them an unfair advantage on and off the pitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At some point you just have to hold your hands up and say "fine, you win" and scuttle home with your ball. For the English, that point came on Sunday evening when Andrea Pirlo, the metronomic midfield maestro with the look of an adulterous night-school art teacher, looked England's goalkeeper Joe Hart in the eye.

Hart's wild facial gestures were intended to distract the Juventus player, but Pirlo simply strolled forward and chipped into the middle of Hart's goal.

It was the insouciant act of a man out walking his Labrador nudging a stray ball back to a swarm of 11-year-olds playing in the park, not someone with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. It was not, it's fair to say, something you can imagine one of the English players daring to attempt. Let alone scoring. Pirlo's majesty stamped a full-stop on any notion that we can compete with the Italians. Not just on the pitch, but on a complete cultural level

Not that the Tre Leoni have ever really been on a par with the Azurri. Their four World Cups see to that. But England could once take heart in the fact our boys would never resort to dull catenaccio tactics to grind out a one-nil win.

Unfortunately, England's recent penchant for faithful 10- or 11-man impersonations of General Elliot's troops during the siege of Gibraltar put paid to that, too.

It wasn't just the football played on Sunday. The Italians dominated in every possible category. Their manager Cesare Prandelli crouched on the touchline on Sunday, with his hair slicked back, in a (stereotype alert) perfectly tailored suit, looking as cool as liquid nitrogen as his team battered the England goal. Roy Hodgson, bless him, sat hunched on the bench wearing an unfathomably big watch while his hair grappled with the humidity like a dog trying to catch a moth.

Even the sides' respective loose cannons can't compare. Wayne Rooney bellowing "What? Fucking what?!" into a camera, or Mario Balotelli's mercurial "Why always me?" moment? Exactly.

Look away from the pitch, too. We've been veni vidi vici-ed all over again. (Thanks for those roads, though). Britain's high streets are a good example. Fancy a quick shot of espresso? Slice of pizza? Armani suit? And though, England's culinary reputation has improved vastly, the Italians' cuisine has conquered the world with an efficacy that Caesar could only have dreamed of. Until Yorkshire Pudding Hut makes its way to Florence, we may have to concede on that front, too.

London's fashion industry might be a colossus to compare with Milan, but if the fans interviewed in Kiev yesterday are any signifier of national attitudes to style, then you won't need me to tell you the nationality of the handsome chap on Sky News in a perfectly fitted shirt, Ray-Bans and chinos. Then there's the weather, the architecture, the beaches, the skiing, the haircuts, the coffee. All reasons why Brits flock to the damn place every year. Pirlo's impression of Antonin Panenka merely served to draw a handy visual motif for that inferiority. Thanks for that, Andrea.

So, what does that leave us with?

Well, as in 2006, the Italian league is currently plagued by a giant match-fixing scandal, with several players arrested and questioned. Then there are the scary football hooligans, including the Italy fans who racially abused their own Mario Balotelli. Not to mention the continuing scourge of organised crime in the south of the country, an economy so rattled it's led to the appointment of a non-elected Prime Minister; Roman traffic; the media and political career of Silvio Berlusconi and a tower that can't even stand up straight.

You may have won this time, Italy. But give us James Milner, a slightly higher gross domestic product, Test cricket, a cup of tea and a walk in the Peak District any day. And if we could repatriate Andrea Pirlo in time for Brazil 2014, well, that'd be swell, too.