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England and Italy to the core

Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012, 13.01CET
If you're half-Italian, half-English and you've been following the Azzurri for the last decade, who do you want to see reach the semi-finals? Richard Aikman talks through his latest identity crisis.
by Richard Aikman
from Krakow
 
 
Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012, 13.01CET

England and Italy to the core

If you're half-Italian, half-English and you've been following the Azzurri for the last decade, who do you want to see reach the semi-finals? Richard Aikman talks through his latest identity crisis.

Now I know how Fabio Capello must have felt. As someone with emotional ties to both England and Italy, Sunday's quarter-final will throw up an interesting quandary. Do I support the green and pleasant land of my birth, or do I cheer on Italy, the country with which I have enjoyed an enduring love affair ever since my Italian mother packed me off to spend a summer there aged eight.

It's not a decision I have often had to make as the two sides have seldom met in competitive action. Not since a FIFA World Cup qualifier 15 years ago when England celebrated a 0-0 draw in Rome as though they had won the tournament outright. They had lost the Wembley encounter to Gianfranco Zola's goal. I also recall the World Cup third-place play-off in 1990, which Italy won with a Toto Schillaci penalty following a Peter Shilton error.

On both occasions I supported England. It is not something you really choose. Though my bloodline is split down the middle your heart decides such matters, not your head. My homeland has won through every time.

©Getty Images

Will I be an Italy fan on Sunday?

This time around, though, it's different, because I have been following Italian football professionally for the last decade and spent the last two UEFA European Championships ensconced in the Italian team camp. As I have had the chance to meet some of the players and got to know some of the people within the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) a natural emotional attachment has grown stronger. My Italian half has become more pronounced.

And let's face it, what's not to like? They have Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo, they have l'Inno di Mameli (the national anthem), they have Casa Azzurri. Like a beautiful woman in her prime, Cesare Prandelli's side are irresistible. Little wonder 20 million people back home (sorry, back in Italy) watched his side beat the Republic of Ireland on Monday. "It's a wonderful thing," said the 54-year-old. "People have fallen in love with this Italy side."

They have indeed. Four years ago, I was as crestfallen as the next Italian when I watched from the stands in Vienna as Cesc Fàbregas knocked Roberto Donadoni's side out of UEFA EURO 2008. Will Sunday be any different if Steven Gerrard does the same? Will I be Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde? No idea yet. All I can say is, may the best team win …

Last updated: 22/06/12 3.07CET

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