Ciao Amici (hello friends),
After waiting for four years, the World Cup Soccer Tournament or Copa Mundial as it is called in Italy, is preparing to get underway. The tournament begins in mid-June with the final match on Sunday, July 13th. If you can imagine what it would be like if American football’s Super Bowl or baseball’s World Series was only held once every four years, you can get an idea. The anticipation and anxiety for the countries, the teams and the fans of sports’ most coveted and elusive trophy is phenomenal! This month’s question for Mr. Italy talks about one of Italy’s top passions – Calcio and the Copa Mundial.
The World Cup is held only every four years is so exciting to watch. While the game is so loved around the world, it is especially ingrained into the fabric of daily life in Italy. Can you tell me a bit about its origin and history? And who do you predict will win this year?
Point Pleasant, New Jersey
Answer: As far back as the 15th century, Italians played an early form of soccer. In its early form the game was known as Gioco del Calcio Fiorentino, or Florentine kickball. As such, it quickly spread to the rest of the Italian peninsula. It is said that visiting sailors from other countries looking to get some exercise while docked in port took to the game quickly. After all, you only needed a round ball, an open field, and a makeshift net or goal. You didn’t even need to speak the same language to be able to get a game going – it was the ultimate “pick-up” game! The sailors then introduced it to other ports and cities throughout Europe and the world.
The name calcio stuck in Italy, while most other countries now call the game futbol. The United States is the only country that calls the game soccer. Also, Americans call the once every four year tournament the World Cup yet around the world it is referred to as the Copa Mundial.
The Italian Football Association was founded in 1898. Around that time, clubs sprang up such as: FC Juventus, AC Milan, SS Lazio, FC Internazionale Milano, and of course, my sentimental favorite, SS Napoli.
The Italian national team – nicknamed the Azzurri after their blue uniforms – found quick success on the international stage. Italy captured the Olympic Gold medal in 1936 in between winning the 1934 and 1938 FIFA World Cups, becoming the first team to successfully defend their title. Only the great Brazilian teams of 1958 and 1962 have repeated this feat.
In 1970, Italy advanced to the FIFA World Cup final before losing to Brazil, but they went one better in 1982 when reaching the pinnacle of world football for the third time behind star Paolo Rossi, defeating West Germany, 3-1, in the final.
In Italy, when there is a major match being played, the entire country shuts down. Big screens TV’s are set in up the town’s piazzas. Flags and banners are waving, Vespas are buzzing with fans in full team colors, businesses, schools and banks close, trains stop running, and everyone cheers their national team on to victory.
In 1994, Roberto Baggio led the Italian team to the final where the Azzurri played Brazil to a 0-0 tie, only to lose on penalty kicks. I was in Italy for that final match and watched it with friends on Lake Garda. After the loss, it felt like someone’s grandmother had died – the entire country went into mourning for a few weeks!
In 2006 Italy reigned supreme again by beating France in a hotly contested, penalty-laden, emotional final, winning their 4th title.
Only 8 Countries have ever won a World Cup title. Brazil leads with 5, Italy has 4, Germany has 3, Argentina and Uruguay have 2 each, and England, France and Spain have 1 title each. So, you can imagine how difficult it is to even get to a final, none-the-less win a title. We Italians are extremely proud of this accomplishment.
Today, soccer is undisputedly the most watched and played sport on earth. It is enjoyed in every country in the world. The sport is easily bigger than baseball, football and basketball combined.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, known as FIFA, is the international governing body of soccer worldwide. Its membership is comprised of 209 countries. Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, FIFA is responsible for the organization of football’s major international tournaments, and most notably the World Cup.
Who will win the 2014 World Cup? The seventh-seeded team in the world ranking, the Azzuri has a very tough draw. Still these Italian players are sure to bring great competition to the other nations with their flair, zeal, energy and style of play. If you are Italian, it is “unconstitutional” to root for or predict any other winner than Italy…Forza Azzuri!
“You say Tomato, I say TOMATO” … Calcio or Soccer? When you are in Italy or in the presence of Italians, announce that you are passionate about calcio and you will be treated like a local celebrity. Italians think Americans are indifferent or ignorant about their national pastime and showing interest (whether true or faked) is taken as a major compliment. Remember though, to call it calcio and not soccer, football or futbol, as this would be a dead give-away that you are “faking it”. And have a favorite star player- such as Maldini, Baggio, Del Piero, Di Natale or Totti. Any of these men are all great choices and treated as celebrities and national heroes!