Has this been the tournament of Euroredemption? It has been impossible to follow Euro 2012 unaware of political frissons, and the echoes of the other Euro, as the European Union undergoes its gravest crisis since Treaty of Rome in 1957. “Greece Leaves the Euro” was one cheeky London tabloid headline after the Greeks were beaten 4-2 (it had to be Germany who beat them). And you will have noticed that three of four semi-finalists were Pigs, the unlovely acronym for the “Club Med” countries, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, which do not seem to have been ordering their public or private finances in the most ethical fashion, and who now want the tab picked up by industrious and unwilling Germany.
In another way there was redemption. Despite my earlier quotaion from Miss Prism, the good have ended happily, more or less. The teams playing attacking open football—Portugal, Spain, Italy—have overcome teams embodying defense, sterility and negativity, and that has been on the whole the pattern throughout the tournament. For Italy “redemption,” has a special meaning. Yet again—what else is new?—Italian domestic soccer is mired in scandal. Some players were dropped from the squad under the shadow of yet another match-fixing affair, though Cesare Prandelli, the manager, modified his scruples enough to play Leonardo Bonucci, also under investigation, who did indeed defend most doughtily against Germany on Thursday.
Both Italian goals were things of beauty, and both were scored by a man who, in domestic games, has often been greeted by rival supporters singing “There are no black Italians.” We all know Mario Balotelli can be a pain in the neck, but he’s a combination of Socrates and Gandhi compared with those Italian fans. Good as his first goal was, its only begetter was the peerless Pirlo, surely the man of the tournament or MVP. That’s an Americanism, but then Gianlucca Vialli, one of the BBC’s less irritating talking heads, compared Andrea Pirlo with a great NFL quarterback. It might seem a stretch, but there’s a touch of Joe Montana in the way he can take the ball back a few paces, create his own pool of space, and then make the play just as he damn well wants.
So these Azzurri come from a country whose prime minister suggested recently that domestic soccer should be suspended for a season to take the stink off. During the Great War, Italian soldiers used to sing “Ch'ella mì creda libero e lontano/ sopra una nuova via di redenzione!…” Dick Johnson’s mournful aria in La Fanciulla del West when he thinks he’s about to be lynched, praying that his beloved Minnie may believe he’s gone away to a new life of redemption. If the Italians win, they could sing it too. Their country could do with a little redenzione—and so could all of Europe.