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From Every Corner, Italy Rejoices

July 10, 2006|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ROME — There are rare moments when Italy rises above regional differences and comes together as a country. It certainly doesn't happen in politics; maybe it happens briefly when an Italian soldier is killed in an overseas mission.

It is soccer, and perhaps soccer alone, that can unite the nation in unbridled euphoria, make grown men cry, sane women squeal and immerse an entire national population in wild jubilation.

Italy exploded late Sunday, city to city, village to village, in noisy, frantic celebration of its conquest of the World Cup, the confirmation of the Azzurri as soccer champions of the planet.

From the prosperous north to the hardscrabble south, Italians poured into streets and plazas, danced in fountains and clambered over marble statues in an all-night party.

For once, very different cities all looked alike: fashionable Milan, Sicilian Palermo, poor Naples, the chichi Mediterranean resort of Rimini. All were taken over by roving throngs of joyous, flag-waving fans, the tifosi.

"All Italy is in the plazas tonight," Italian television pronounced, without exaggeration.

In Rome, tens of thousands of Italians coursed through downtown streets and converged on Piazza Venezia, swarming over the mammoth monument to Vittorio Emanuele, the king who united Italy into a country only 150 years ago.

They chanted "I-tal-ia," sang soccer club songs, set off fireworks that shook the entire capital and squirted each other with beer and cheap champagne. Smoke engulfed Renaissance-era palaces and people on Vespa motor scooters zipped about, huge Italian flags trailing them. The crowds surged past the ancient Roman Forum and around the Colosseum.

"This was a wonderful World Cup that made us forget our troubles," said Mauro de Rossi, 30, flag in hand. "The magic will only last until the day after tomorrow," he added, but for now, it was time to savor the victory.

In Naples, a sign declared "Santo Subito" -- Sainthood Now -- for team captain Fabio Cannavaro, playing on the same campaign mounted for the late Pope John Paul II.

There is simply no comparison in the United States to this sort of outpouring, when an entire nation mounts such a marathon frenzy.

Earlier in the evening, Italian fans gathered in Circus Maximus, the recessed park where chariots competed some 2,000 years ago. Gianna dello Iacono, a native of Naples, was there with her teenage niece and sister-in-law to share the moment with her countrymen, even though she finds many of them to be too unfriendly. Tonight, however, "we are all Italians," she said.

And a family of Egyptian immigrants, in Rome for 16 years, said the World Cup had given them and their Italian neighbors "the same things to talk about."

"I feel more Italian," said the father, Nabil Abou El Fetogh, 43, who works at a restaurant. As they spoke, Italy scored its first goal. Fetogh grabbed his 4-year-old son and began to dance.

The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, said from Germany where he attended the match, that he believed the national unity inspired by Italy's fourth World Cup title was unprecedented.

"This has given Italy a sense of national pride, of national identity that will help us confront our problems together," he said.

Lurking in the background of Italy's championship, of course, was a match-fixing scandal that has shaken Italian soccer to its core. A trial is underway that could result in demotion of four of Italy's top teams, the home clubs for roughly half of the men competing on the victorious national selection.

A verdict may come as early as this week.

Many Italian fans hope the World Cup victory will somehow make the scandal go away. But that seems unlikely. Instead, it's a respite. As social commentator Beppe Severgnini put it, the World Cup is like a festive truce, a moment "suspended in time."

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