(Note: This was a commentary I had written for Goal.com in July 2012, off the back of the Euro that year.)
As a dedicated tifosa d’Italia familiar with the heartaches an Italian fan has to experience, I did not know what to expect going into this Euro with a new coach and an exciting mix of players, but I was ready to support them all the way, no matter how far they got. The horrors of South Africa 2010 still haunted me, and my only concern was whether we could vindicate ourselves and exorcise the demons of that World Cup campaign.
My affinity with Italy (and AC Milan) began in 1998, from the first time I saw Paolo Maldini play. Since then, I have never looked back. I often say, sono una ragazza cinese con un cuore italiano (I am a Chinese girl with an Italian heart). Over the years, I have followed many Italy and AC Milan games, amassed a shrine of calcio memorabilia, cheered alone in front of the TV at home when I was still too young to be drinking at bars with other fans, and cried myself to sleep when Italy was mercilessly knocked out by the golden goal rule in 2000 and 2002. Since the World Cup win in 2006, I have had the fortune of meeting other like-minded and true Italy fans, and over many pints of beer and pizza, we have cheered and cursed heartily (in colloquial terms and Italian) at beautiful goals and missed chances. This time, we were out in full force at The Sailors at Robertson Quay, decked in our jerseys, lucky charms and flags, with nothing but the best wishes for Prandelli’s Italia.
The first Group C game against Spain was nerve-wrecking, to say the least. I could hardly sleep or eat on the day of the game. To make matters worse, the friendlies that took place before the Euro kick-off had ended badly for Italy, and as we belted out L’inno di Mamelli, Italy’s national anthem, proudly with the rest of the bar, we could only pray for the best outcome.
At the end of that first game, my feeling was that even though it was a draw, this team has exorcized the demons of South Africa 2010 and is ready to move on to new heights, and I thank Cesare Prandelli for his inspirational work. This team is full of hardworking players who are hungry for success. There is great fighting spirit in players like Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo, and Alessandro Diamanti, and with more opportunities to compete on a high level, this midfield ensemble can shine. As an AC Milan fan, I was especially pleased to see Ignazio Abate, a Milan player, up his game by making several attacking runs on top of his solid defense. Of course, there is the magic in Andrea Pirlo that we have known for more than 10 years now, and which the rest of Europe seemed to have found out a bit too late.
By the time Italy defeated England and advanced to the semi-finals to meet Germany, we were already convinced that with time and strategy, this team can do great things. It remains a pity that the talented Giuseppe Rossi had to miss the campaign due to injury, but whenever he is ready, he will join the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Stephan El Shaarawy and Davide Santon for what will be the bright future of Italy.
Being a fan of gli azzurri in Singapore is a challenging endeavor, as we often have to endure pointless taunts from supporters of other national teams (the popular choices being England, Germany and, of course, Spain) and fans of the English Premier League, and most recently, La Liga as well. But being the underdog has its advantages. We Italy fans have learnt, over the years, to be quietly optimistic, never boastful, and always putting our 100% faith in the team. What sets us Italy fans apart is our resilience and loyalty to gli azzurri, and this Euro 2012 once again proved that Italian fans around the world still have something to smile about, and we are united by an undying love for i nostri ragazzi.