Ahn Jung Hwan celebrating his golden goal (S.Korea- Italy QF, WC 2002)
Italians are poor losers when it comes to football and their teams tend to play the most unattractive type of football. The World Cups they have won in the past have been done so playing defensive and soporific football. Their success in scoring goals have been through a group of opportunistic strikers, Paolo Rossi, Roberto Bettega, and Salvatore Schillaci.
So lets go back down memory lane and revisit what I thought was WC 2002's most hysterical moment. The Ahn Jung Hwan moment. The Italy vs South Korea quarterfinal.
The Italians had a number of chances to put away the game. But the Koreans equalized in time through Seol Ki-Hyeon with just two minutes left to play. Then Christian Vieri flubbed an open chance from 6 feet away to win the game for Italy a minute before the game was over. And the game went to extra time with the sudden death rule. There were a couple of questionable calls that umpire Byron Moreno made. Suddenly, the Italians found a scapegoat for their failure to score. An offside decision overruled a goal and Totti's dramatic dive and histrionic Italian appeals did not lead to a penalty kick. In fact, Totti's gamesmanship earned him the red card and he was off the field. Moments before the game was going to be decided on penalty kicks, Korean striker Ahn Jung Hwan headed in the match deciding goal. Italy was eliminated. Ciao!
Francesco Totti being sent off
The fall out was immense. And the Italians went berserk. FIFA was beseiged by hundred of thousands of irate callers demanding the head of Byron Moreno. Kickbacks were alleged. Death threats issued. The minister of public affairs called the umpire a disgrace. The Rome prosecutors office opened up an investigation into the umpire's conduct. Moreno further enraged the Italians by firing back stating the allegations of financial impropriety was a bit rich coming from the country that invented the concept of the backhander.
Christian has more on Italian style corruption in football
As Nick Hornsby writes, "at one stage it seemed only a matter of time before a small flotilla of Italian gunships would set sail across the Atlantic, to prepare the way for a full-scale invasion of Ecuador."
But the laughathon did not stop there. Luciano Gaucci, president of Perugia FC, the Italian club that Ahn Jung Hwan played for decided to sack him for his unacceptable goal. Quote. 'That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again,' Gaucci said. 'I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian soccer.' Close quote.
(Excerpted from Nick Hornsby article in the 07-15- 2002 edition of the New Yorker. (Subscription needed))
So the question is who will be Italy's Ahn Jung Hwan in this World Cup? Italy meets the US, Ghana, and the Czech Republic in their group.
Ghana has defender Samuel Osei Kuffour of AS Roma, midfielder Sulley Ali Muntari of Udinese and striker Asamoah Gyan of Modena. And the Czech Republic have star Pavel Nedved playing for Juventus. Anyone of them can ruin Italian soccer again. But me thinks the fascist Ultras of Udinese, AS Roma, or Modena will get their shorts in a twist if anyone of the Ghanian players score against Italy. And I would think that the Ghanians playing for the Italian Serie should be careful before returning to their clubs knowing Ultras behavior.
The US has no player in the Italian Serie A.