I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in front of the TV late at night, watching the World Cup final of 1994, which took place in the USA. It was a match between the two greatest football nations, Brazil and Italy. Both had glided their way out of the group stages and into the final. Both had their star players. In Italy’s case, it was one Roberto Baggio, who had almost single-handedly carried the time to the final with a series of fantastic goals in almost every match.
The two teams battled well but no goals appeared to break the deadlock. Inevitably, it all culminated in a penalty shoot-out. After Italy missed a penalty, it came down to Roberto Baggio to ensure that he kept his team in contention. Alas, he had been suffering from a leg injury, and the ball went over the top bar, handing the trophy to Brazil.
Oh, the hearbreak! It was the first World Cup I watched, and still the one of which I have the most memories. Klinsmann playing for Germany, Romario for Brazil, Maradona in his last outing for Argentina, a strong Bulgarian team that got as far as the semis (I think), no England or Scotland, and, of course, a classic run for the Azzurri.
I had to wait another 12 years and 2 World Cups before I finally saw my dream come true and watched a fantastic Italy team, captained by Fabio Cannavaro, lift the trophy at last.
Supporting Italy is not quite like supporting Brazil or Germany, the other two great footballing nations. Although the Azzurri have great potential and some exceptionally talented and creative players, they do not always maintain a high standard. They are not consistent. One year they may be fabulous, another year mediocre, another year poor. This is unlike the other two, which usually hover around good or very good. This means that you have to put up with a lot more ups and downs if you are a fan of the Azzurri.
In spite of this, Italy is no England (or Scotland, admittedly): it has won the World Cup on 4 occasions (Brazil has 5): 2006, 1982, 1938 and 1934. Quite a big gap between the wins in the 30s and the one in the 80s. Then another wait of 5 World Cups before Italy lifted the trophy again in 2006. Italy have also reached the final in three competitions in the last three decades and lost: the World Cup in 1994, the Euros in 2000, the Euros in 2012.
Right now, in World Cup 2014, the Azzurri have to beat Uruguay to qualify for the second round. The match is on tomorrow at 5PM (GMT).