Italy leave me with uova on my face

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am


They serve three types of cooked egg at the Hotel Kharhov, located a few yards up from the fabulous fan zone in its namesake city: all are fried and arrive sunny-side up, sunny-side down or rock hard. No matter the method. I had little choice but to order a super-sized helping and wear them all over my face after Italy beat Germany.

That's what happens when you put all your faith in the dynamism of youth. With my Irish heritage you'd have thought I had long taken heed of the cautionary tale in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, and looked beyond the Germans' zest and seen instead the fickle, fleeting nature of youthful power.

For most of the past 4,100 miles on the road chasing matches in Poland and Ukraine, I have been predicting a German showing in the final tomorrow. And after watching them in Lviv against Denmark, I was convinced they would take on Spain in Kiev - and win. So convinced was I after seeing the Italians only graduate to the semis on penalties against England, I had advance-written in my mind two versions of the final 90 minutes of Euro 2012, one beginning with German triumph and the other a narrow loss to the Spanish and a repeat of four years ago.

What was it grandmother said about counting chickens?

At least I got half the equation correct, but I wish I had met Nigerian amateur football philosopher Oroglou Emmanuel earlier. As we stood among the few thousand watching in Kharkov's fan zone, he pointed out the flaw in Joachim Loew's young team.

'Of course the Italians won because they played with passion. The Germans were too clinical, too organised. They lacked the same spiritual force as the Italians. You can teach technique but you can't teach passion,' said the 23-year-old aerospace engineering graduate, who has just completed his four years of study in Kharkov, a city of many students and former Soviet Ukraine's capital.

'I support no team. I am not really a football fan but I have been watching the tournament and you judge which teams are better by their emotions,' he said.

His fellow Nigerian student and roommate, Edema-Sillo Toritiseju - or TJ for short - is a medical student with two more of six years to run in this remote city.

'I am a Barcelona fan and I am supporting Spain of course. I think we would have beaten the Germans but I am worried about the Italians if they play like this,' said TJ.

Granted, Italy had not lost in their seven previous tournament encounters with the Germans and from the emotional singing of the national anthem by Gianluigi Buffon, you got the sudden feeling Germany's tactical invention, physical dominance, intelligence and guile were up against a formidable single force - Italian pride. When Mario Balotelli lit up the National Stadium with his power header, fireworks shot out of the foot of the big screen in Kharhov and exploded. But we had already been startled by the Italians' fire.

In front of us a German fan in red-and-black-striped hat and Germany football shirt grabbed his girl and kissed her, shielding her from the embarrassing events on the pitch. Many of the local crowd were supporting Germany but a few sneaked a rare smile, just like the stripped-to-the-torso Manchester City maverick. His yellow card brought laughs of 'who cares!'.

Balotelli restored his reputation as did Italian football to a degree, amid the ongoing match fixing scandal. Clearly, the Germans do something to the Italians which the dour English do not. It was a different team from Sunday's stale affair. Italy's through-balls and brilliant finishes in the first half and resolute defending and breakaways in the second were mesmerising.

We stood in the dark with the screen reflecting of on our faces, bewitched by Andrea Pirlo and Balotelli. The Italians have been playing two types of football at this tournament, one akin to a Fiat Punto and the other a Ferrari. On Thursday night it was the latter, all acceleration and style plus the quintessential ingredients for any Italian football dish - flair and passion and, unlike my breakfast eggs, timed to perfection.

Mesut Ozil's late penalty was fair consolation for a German side that struck fear throughout the tournament. But the system of academies and the strict set of rules mandating all Bundesliga clubs to run their own youth systems to suit the vision of the national team will have to add an extra subject to the curriculum next semester - unbridled, on-the-hoof passion.

I have finally, after nearly four weeks on the road, turned my Land Rover round in the direction of home, via Kiev, naturally. And as I bid Kharkov farewell, I must wash the flies off the windscreen, and the Italian uova off of my face.