The Emperor's New Clothes: The Italians

The Italians who face England tonight think they are better dressed, better fed, better lovers. Simmy Richman begs to differ

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Ah, Italy. Bellissima. The land of love, art, food and opera. A country awash with olive-skinned lovelies. Home of Gucci, Prada, Armani, Valentino, its mother tongue capable of making women (well, Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda) swoon. Osso bucco Milanese, Parmigiana, mozzarella, gorgonzola, linguine, Mussolini...

Surely, in the face of such a stylish onslaught, our footballers, lovely (but not necessarily lovely to look at) English boys all, do not stand a chance in Kiev tonight. Or so runs the received wisdom. This column begs you to think again.

The land of love? This is a country – Catholic with a capital C – so sexually repressed its young people have to snog in their cars because they consider falling foul of the local serial killer less threatening than a chance encounter with the young lady in question's father.

Land of art? The Renaissance was long ago, and while Da Vinci had something, the last Italian artists to have made an international impact have either been dead for nearly a century, like Modigliani (La Belle Romaine, inset), or were born far from the boot-shaped land (De Chirico). What wouldn't modern Italy give for a Tracey Emino or a Damien Hirstio?

Food? You're having a laugh. Spaghetti is that stuff students throw in the pan when there's nothing in the fridge; pizza, an inferior take on Welsh rarebit only fit for eating when there's no pasta in the cupboard and you're too drunk to do anything but reach for a phone.

As for opera, Pavarotti had a decent voice (if you like that sort of thing), but his biggest successes came when he got a bit of help from the likes of our very own Bono. Just one Cornetto? Go Compare? That's the true legacy of this ancient musical art form.

And so to fashion. Of course, there are those understated labels previously mentioned. But far more conspicuous are Versace, Cavalli and D&G – all of whom make clothes for men who wear white trousers and women with skin as leathery as their handbags.

They've got Ferrari. We've got Aston Martin. They had gladiators, we've got Wolf and Jet. Their empire was over by the end of the fifth century. Ours lasted until the end of the 19th. Viennetta, Gino Ginelli, Dolmio ... Come on England. We have nothing to fear.

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