Before the World Cup kicked off, the names most chanted were Brazil and Ronaldinho. For some, they were Argentina and Riquelme or England and Rooney. Very few spoke of Portugal, though they had sympathies for Figo. Italy was ignored.
Less than a month on, just three days from the final, everyone is putting money on an Italian triumph in Berlin. And nobody wants to talk of the giants — perished and gone in the fight.
The bookies have it in pen and paper and, of course, on their websites. Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power, which earlier backed a Brazilian win, now have Italy as the favourite to lift the Cup, with odds at 8/11.
Portugal, which began at a dismal 22/1 at Ladbrokes, improved to 9/2.
Before the France-Portugal semi-final, William Hill was offering evens for a France win and 11/4 for a Portugal win. Its website said: “France are simply getting better as the World Cup progresses.” Some would love to read it as “Zidane is getting better”. The artiste has shown it in this tournament, unlike Ronaldo who failed to live up to expectations, though he scored a brace against Japan in the early round.
The only solace for his die-hard supporters: at least he scored. Teammate Ronaldinho, the star of the last World Cup, had to take the flight home without a single goal to his credit.
Money and betting apart, the beautiful game has turned out to be a good teacher. The lessons learnt: never state the obvious, never underestimate the underdogs and never ever say, “I bet my money on it.” There is every chance you will lose.