This is shaping up to be the most enjoyable World Cup since I started paying attention to the event -- France and Italy are both out. Gone are the two most annoying soccer teams in the tourney, the two finalists from 2006. France is a bunch of underachieving whiners, while Italy makes the "beautiful game" ugly and boring.
The Italians were bounced from their group by Slovakia (my mom's parents were Slovak, so nice to see the Motherland come through), 3-2. "Going Home in Shame," read one Italian paper.
My problem with Italy is the incredibly dull brand of defensive soccer they play. If you were trying to turn someone off the sport, just force them to watch virtually any Italy game. In the first two games, both draws, there were only two shots on the Italian goal; that's the equivalent of the old four-corners offense that used to make some college basketball games so dreadful until they instituted a shot clock.
Against the Slovaks, the Italians fell behind and were forced to open it up, and it made for an entertaining second half. The best part was when an Italian player and the Slovak goalie got tangled up in the net fighting for the ball after a goal. When another Slovak player came in and barely grazed his opponent, the Italian acted like he had been electrocuted and started writhing on the ground holding his face. The Italians have always been drama queens. And to top it off, Italian coach Marcello Lippi, channeling his inner Bill Belichick, stalked off the field into the tunnel as soon as the horn blew.
At least the Italian public knows lousy soccer when it sees it.
"We deserved to be eliminated," said Francesco Mongiovi, working at a coffee bar in downtown Rome. "The first two games we played badly, and the third one was disastrous."
This is only the fourth time the defending champ has failed to advance to the knockout round. Arrivederci!