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Soccer

[WILD GESTURING AND SCREAMING IN ITALIAN]

Players of Italy celebrate following their team's victory in the penalty shoot out after the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium on July 06, 2021 in London, England.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

So now that Comrades McKinney and Magary have taken up sides on Denmark (McKinney unilaterally declared herself a de facto Danish citizen) and England (Magary seized an uninhabited island in the North Atlantic to pretend that it was still 1583), and now that we have dragged Billy Shakesbergsen through the dirt to torture the analogy further, what’s left to do with today’s match?

Look ahead to Italy, of course. The first finalist. The team that uses hand signals as often as it uses feet, gets in the referee’s face at every opportunity even when the call has gone in its favor, and whose passage to the final came through the always ass-achingly bad penalty shootout to get past Spain. They gave us one final Álvaro Morata sad face, and that’s a brain imprint that never goes away.

Italy. My country … well, the country of my ancestors, anyway. The team that will make this all moot in the end.

The Italian soccer heritage is deep and long, and lately dominated by bankruptcies and corruption. You know, standard stuff for the fellas. It has the only non-Spanish team (Juventus) that still believes in the disgrace of the Super League even as the coroner is digging through its entrails to find his watch. Better yet, the side is a hilariously messy crosscurrent of oddly timed boldness and lockdown defense. Hell, its coach, the megacontinental Roberto Mancini, has used the word “fun” as one of the team’s goals, which is definitely the one thing the Italian soccer heritage has never really tried until now.

Its goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma, makes Zlatan Ibrahimovic seem like a man with self-esteem issues. One of its best forwards is named Immobile, the fellow who struck the winning spot kick against Spain is named Jorginho, and their top two defenders, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, have played with the national team since 1957. They are intrepid in attack and Sicilian in defense simultaneously, and either way will figure out a way to steal your joy.

Italy has strung together a 27-match unbeaten streak and yet was almost never considered a tournament favorite because what it lacks in boyish charm, it makes up for in no longer being as stolid as, say, the Russians, Czechs or Scots. It is, in short, kind of a hot and brilliant combination of influences that ground its way through a relatively tepid group (Turkey, Switzerland and Wales) before easing past Austria, Belgium and Spain. Theirs has not been a tour of the group of death, and their claim for aesthetic superiority took a hit when Spain played them off the park everywhere but on the score line. Italy, sadly and gloriously, is what it is.

In addition, the Italians lack the Christian Eriksen narrative and America’s own Premier League–fueled Anglobiases, so either way the boys of the boot will not be the popular choice come Sunday. And you cannot have a proper rooting interest unless you have a team that works against that rooting interest. The Defector Soccer Desk is clearly all-in on England-Denmark, so someone has to take the side of the noisy neighbors, if only to provide some needed editorial balance (Comrade Ley rooted for the Isle of Man because he likes their three-legged flag, but that’s still within the English margin for error).

So make England-Denmark your match of choice, but only know that in the end, there will be Italy, laughing, half-plowed and thoroughly, lovably obnoxious until the final whistle, or until Taylor Twellman stops talking, which will be some time Tuesday.

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