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Saturday, 1 July 2006

Ukraine 0, Italy 3…

Fresh from the astonishing excitement of the conclusion of the Germany v Argentina game, it was inevitable that the least compelling of the quarter finals would struggle even further to match its top billing in the TV schedules. Only a rerun of Italy’s infamous 1962 World Cup tie with Chile in which several people died and even the referee got stuck in could have matched the riotous scenes that greeted Argentina’s exit from the tournament. Too sluggish (or squeamish?), the German TV production team had failed to capture the one image that even the most hardened PC plodder over at the Cuntiad would give a wheelbarrow filled with hard currency to see – those Argentinian boots hurtling horizontally through the air to pole axe a victorious German centre back. Even the normally prudish Beeb did their best, dedicating as much screen time in their highlights package to the aftermath as to the events leading up to Germany’s latest triumph in the lottery that is the penalty shoot out.

Or “shoe doubt”, as the German coach, Jurgen “California Uber Alles” Klinsmann pronounced it in the post bout interview. We’ve all had that, haven’t we? Well, maybe not the Italians. As well as being top of the shoe tree, they seem to be doing an uncanny impersonation of England – sneaking surreptitiously through the tournament. Let’s hope England can join them later today, perched on a rooftop overlooking the final in the manner of an expectant cat burglar. They may need to deploy some of the darker arts to get past the Germans next week, but last night we saw the best of Italian football.

There is one other positive that accompanies their progress to the last four: we are guaranteed to hear their wonderful anthem once more. A 90 second operetta whose enthusiastic group rendition tells you as much about Italy’s cultural heritage as our moronic, half-Nelson induced mug along to ‘God Save the Queen’ does ours. There’s a wonderful, dramatically hushed section that builds up to the anthem’s rousing conclusion during which I expect someone with a moustache wearing a white vest and jeans, wielding a truncated microphone to step out of the shadows singing “I see a little sillouett-o of a man…” but they never do. The Ukrainian anthem translates as “Glory has not perished”. Right-oh.

We pan along the gorgeous conglomeration of rogues and rascals that is Team Italia. Totti (a young, handsome Harry H. Corbett), Gattuso (Eddie Izzard with beard), Camorenesi (Pete Burns immersed in a Geisha fetish) Luca Toni (a thin Gyles Brandreth), Zambrotta (Bepe from Eastenders) Pirlo (various members of Aerosmith too numerous to name), Grosso (Danny Kaye) ‘keeper Buffon (Larry Grayson) and captain Cannavaro (Dennis Wise). A strong side, even without the talismanic Alessandro del Piero (The Boss) It falls to Cannavaro and Ukrainian skipper Shevchenko to read two FIFA prepared statements urging the world to reject racism and discrimination and embrace the spirit of unity embodied by the game. Despite the evident irony of the proud ranks of non-whites lined up at the captains’ sides, it is still kind of moving. I fancy today’s pronouncements by Beckham and Figo will carry more weight. Beckham’s will certainly be a giggle, if nothing else. The semi finals will, I’m told, be dedicated to the concept of ‘No-Nukes’. Will the Boss be playing in the warm up? (That’s the real Bruce Springsteen, not del Piero, btw…)

So the game kicks off at the impressive home of Hamburg SV, where legends such as Kevin Keegan (Kevin Keegan) and Uwe Seeler (Brian Glover) once plied their trade. We get the obligatory shots of the Reeperbahn and the Star Club and the blue plaque to designate the precise spot where Woody Goldblum lost his wallet in November 1994 (that piece of elastic couldn’t last forever, Woody, could it?) And then the game kicks off, Zambrotta picks up a flick from “lovely Totti” (someone said it, it’s in my notes…), powers on and strikes a low drive that flies on, clacking the keeper’s wrist like a rattle on its way to the bottom right corner. The Ukrainian players can’t seem to get going. Shevchenko (Michael Stipe) is easily contained. The rest of the team whiz by in a blur of Jonathan Pearce’s impeccable pronunciation. Mzzssmmnatchy, Tmorrschuck, to the extent that when two syllabled Rusol (Clem Burke) is seen surrounded by medics in a haze of dry ice with an injured foot, I fear that I will be unable to complete the article should Ukraine perform a heroic comeback.

Halftime. We’re treated to Hanson, Leonardo and O’Neill. What were Ukraine like? (“Hopeless” – O’Neill). And how will Italy approach the second half? (“Protect, protect, protect” – Hanson) We see Italian manager Fransesco Lippi (Father Ted in the one where he wears the Fake Hands, remote controlling Father Jack's wheelchair in the 5-a-side competition) Then comes the bombshell we’d all feared. Argentinian manager Peckerman (Richard Gere) has resigned. A former taxi driver, he’s turned his back on a £100,000 P.A. salary. “He could have doubled that if he’d been prepared to go south of the river…” quips Lineker. Rio Ferdinand (Jonathan King, thin and with cornrows) talks up England’s chances against Portugal. “Will Portugal miss the suspended Deco and Costinho?” asks Garth Crooks (the Yoda) “No”, replies Rio, his huge grin somewhat belying the truthfulness of his answer.

The second half. Ukraine have a succession of chances, hit the bar and see shots saved on the line. With cruel inevitability, Italy score. Game over. They score again. Semi finals, here we come.

© 2006 Swipe Enterprises

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