Salut! Sunderland is always open to suggestions for posts from outside interests. Please welcome Cartridge People at whose invitation Pete Sixsmith reports on a match of his choice from the opening phase of Euro 2016. Watching Italy’s 2-0 victory over Belgium stirred memories from the distant past …
There was an Italian commentator on the radio saying that this was the worst Italian tournament side for 50 years.
That would take them back to the 1966 World Cup where the Azzuri were based in the North East of England and I stood on the terraces of Roker Park, Sunderland for my one and only Mondial experience.
Then? Italy were dreadful, operating a turgid defensive system which meant that talented players like Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera were hunting for scraps. They got more than scraps thrown at them when they went home early after losing to North Korea at Middlesbrough.
That was better than Belgium did as they were widely regarded as one of the weakest European nations. They had one good player in Joseph Jurion, a clever inside forward who played in glasses, looking for all the world like a character out of Simenon’s Maigret stories.
Now? Fast forward half a century and here we have two of Europe’s better teams playing in Lyon. Belgium were expected to win with their attacking force of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku while the Italians relied on the Juventus back three and a Sunderland failure in Emanuelle Giaccherini.
And it ended up with a wonderful win for the Azzuri after a game that was always interesting and at times spectacular. Italy were outstanding, defending with so much aplomb and style it was like watching a back three of Noel Coward, David Niven and The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo.
And when the ball was released there was Giaccherini, a man who has created no impression at Sunderland and who is seemingly desperate not to come back. Compare his clever running and consummate passing with the blind alleys that Hazard ran up or the succession of poor balls that De Bruyne played.
He took his goal beautifully, controlling it with one touch and then smashing it past Courtois with the other. It was the sign of a footballer of genuine top quality, something which the Belgians, for all their huffing and puffing, never approached.
There was one other moment that summed up the desire of the Italians to win this game and that was when the excellent Buffon collected a ball which had been missed by both Origi and Fellaini, prompting the tv commentator to liken it to “being handed a new born baby.”
Forza Italia as the flag I was given in 1966 said. Forward with Italy.