Azzurri fans are put to shame in the numbers game

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The Independent Online

The team, you can be sure, will be welcomed back by the usual hail of rotten tomatoes should they go out at the group stage, yet beyond the impulsive knee-jerk reaction to failure, it is debatable whether many Italians will lose much sleep over the progress of Giovanni Trapattoni's players.

The team, you can be sure, will be welcomed back by the usual hail of rotten tomatoes should they go out at the group stage, yet beyond the impulsive knee-jerk reaction to failure, it is debatable whether many Italians will lose much sleep over the progress of Giovanni Trapattoni's players.

The question was raised again last night here where the Azzurri were watched by their usual paltry gathering of fans. Where all the other bastions of European football inspire vast hordes of followers, Italy invariably fail to summon up anything like the same level of partisan patriotism, let alone jingoism, among the ranks of those with supposed pride in the national flag.

Even Spain, where club football rules - and the fates of Real Madrid, Barcelona and, more recently, Valencia, take on more significance than anything else - have suddenly discovered an increased volume of support. Admittedly they have only had to cross the border but not even in tournaments staged in neighbouring countries do Italy enjoy similar favours.

Besides the estimated 50,000 English fans here, the Germans, Dutch and French are all out in force, but it was for the second game running yesterday that the Italians in the crowd found themselves outnumbered and outshouted by Scandinavians.

After the Danish Vikings in their replica red shirts came the marauding Swedes clad in their yellow and blue.

"The Danish end at Guimaraes last Monday was completely red and packed out,'' said Ian Rudkins, an English fan doing the rounds of the grounds. "The Italian end was half empty. They don't seem to travel in numbers to tournaments the way other nations like Spain do. I know Spain is close but this is still unusual for them."

Ian, a West Ham fan from Billericay, added: "I don't think this represents a lack of interest by the Italians but the lack of a group of people who go to internationals when they are not being played on home soil."

It is no crime, of course, to find better things to do with one's summer holidays than to follow Italy across Europe. With no dictator erecting gallows to punish those who do not get behind the national team, Italians have largely stayed at home where, according to Rai's television ratings, they have, at least, yelled on Trapattoni's charges from their sofas, gesticulating madly from afar. Over 14 million, a quarter of the population, watched the Denmark game on their television screens.

The absence of travelling fans remains a mystery, even to Italian journalists: "I don't know why this is,'' said Roberto Ciuti, a Radio Capital commentator. "Maybe it is tradition. Most of them support Milan, Inter, Roma or Juventus. There is more feeling for the clubs than for the [national] team."

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