Triumph against odds, like another team in blue

India celebrate beating England in their ICC Champions Trophy final match at Edgbaston cricket ground, Birmingham, England. AP


When Virat Kohli broke into a jig Gangnam style, it evoked memories of two other triumphs against seriously long odds by a team that also wears blue. A team known as Azzurri (plural of azzurro or light blue).

Italy had learnt to live with the scourge of fixing and betting in sport much before it became a scandal in India. The last two of their four World Cup football titles came in the shadow of betting scandals and rigged games at home.

Paolo Rossi, Italy’s hero of the 1982 World Cup triumph with six goals in 212 minutes of football beginning with the must-win game against Brazil, went to Spain after serving a two-year ban for a betting scandal.

And in 2006, Calciopoli stayed with Italy through their build-up to when Fabio Cannavaro lifted the Cup.

Before his hattrick against Brazil, Rossi was having a mid-summer nightmare. It changed in Barcelona on July 5, 1982 to the point that his autobiography is titled I Made Brazil Cry.

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In 2006, Italy began preparing for the World Cup as Calciopoli, the fixing scandal that eventually had Juventus demoted and two of their Serie A titles taken away, broke. Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon were among the players under the scanner.

Even conflict of interest, now as much a part of Indian cricket as the ‘helicopter’ shot, had threatened to shift focus. Coach Marcelo Lippi’s son Davide was being investigated for his involvement with GEA World, a player agency.

In his eponymous book on Italian football, Calcio, John Foot wrote about “dark mutterings about favouritism for GEA players in national team selection… for the 2006 World Cup.”

But like MS Dhoni’s team, Italy, Foot wrote, “had formed itself into a group willing to fight for each other.” Lippi had walked the talk of this being all about collective endeavour.

On June 29, one day before their quarter-final against Ukraine in Hamburg, the Calciopoli trial began in Rome.

The next day as Germany nearly shut down to watch their quarter-final against Argentina, Italy breezed into the penultimate round with a 3-0 win. Nine days later they were world champs.

“Without the scandal, we would not have won,” said Gennaro Gattuso who ran around without shorts after the final whistle at the Olympiastadion that Sunday.

Before the final, Lippi had said the “hungrier” team would win. Another sport, another event but there was no doubt which team looked that on a wet Sunday at Edgbaston.

 

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