Italy lost in the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 partly because they were waging two wars for the entire tournament. The first was with the greatest football nations the world has to offer, and the second was with their reputation among the world’s greatest officials.
In a sport that has no problem admitting being littered with cheaters and fakers, the Italians as a nation are thought to be among the most consistent offenders of diving. But is this just perception or is it based on reality?
There’s no doubt in the past Italy’s had its moments of questionable integrity. Back in the ’80’s and ’90’s diving was a universal tactic, and to many it still is. This article talks about the regularity of diving in general, but also singles out Italy the country in an effort to explain why this nationality may breed a culture for faking. It’s worth a read and speaks volumes of how even the greatest of Italian footballers are viewed.
I thought they’d turned themselves around recently. Of the 5 worst diving offenses I can think of internationally since the 1990 World Cup(see Jurgen Klinsmann), exactly zero of them were of Italian heritage. This atrocity from Brazil’s Rivaldo in World Cup 2002 has to be the worst.
In fact, also in World Cup 2002, the Italy squad was ousted in part due to a controversial sending off in a quarter final featuring co-host South Korea. Francesco Totti found himself taken down in the box in extra time with the game on his foot, only to be flashed a second yellow/red card for flopping. The South Koreans scored the golden goal shortly after.
For the past 25 years Italy has been relatively quiet on the international stage in both championships (2006 World Cup) and diving embarrassments. It’s worth noting that against Australia during the 2006 triumph, Fabio Grosso went down fairly easily for a penalty, but this incident was highly forgettable to those born outside Australia.
Italy have ranked number 1 in the world at times, but in 2015 they were ranked as low as 17th. In Euro 2016 this lack of dominance didn’t stop officials from harsh judgement.
The boot-shaped country was easily the most carded, racking up a total of 18 cautions in 5 matches. That’s 7 more than any other nation and double most of them. An incredible 8 of these bookings came in the two games of the knock out stage.
While dominating Spain in the round of 16 they took 3 cards on 19 fouls compared to the 13 fouls called on the defending champions. Spain did take 4 yellows themselves which could negate the argument that Italy was targeted. I think it’s more that much of what Spain did went ignored and when the Spanish did get called for fouls it was because they were so blatant the official couldn’t possibly pretend not to notice them. The second half in particular was example after example of Spain not being called for an offence and the ref yelling “play”, then moments later Italy being called for a similar infraction.
In the quarter finals, the Germans controlled much of the first half against Italy and deservedly picked up a second half goal to go up 1-0. After that Italy pressed hard and earned their equalizer. But in moments where they appeared poised to take over the match, a series of fouls would occur and an Italian player would be either warned or shown a yellow. It was frustrating enough against Spain playing with a lead. It was infuriating while being down. The foul count was a close 15 against Germany to 13 Italian infractions, but the bookings were overwhelmingly against Italy at 5-2. Using my argument against Spain would suggest maybe the Italians were more aggressive in their fouling, but watching the game it sure didn’t feel that way. The official seemed to be almost goading Italy into diving and retaliation by hiding the whistle, but I give them full credit for maintaining composure and challenging the Germans by getting cleanly stuck in. Unfortunately it seemed a double standard for acceptable tackles was established in Germany’s favour.
It’s hard to maintain intensity and composure with every bit of contact under such scrutiny. It’s not even that certain players were targeted. The 18 team yellows were spread out over 13 players.
I realize Italy still had its chance to advance, failing only because based on the quality of penalty shootout attempts it apparently wanted to lose more than Germany.
However, there’s been almost a complete player turnover the past 10 years into a new generation of Italians. Just nine of the 23 man roster from Euro 2016 were carried over from 2012, and only four from 2008. Just three go back to World Cup 2006. With that being the case, I do wonder if the Italian football culture is still being judged on former reputation. Either that or maybe I’m wrong in how I saw the knock out stages. Maybe Italy deserved all their cards and really hasn’t changed at all.