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Italy's voyage of discovery

Published: Monday 2 July 2012, 10.55CET
Italy's UEFA EURO 2012 ended with a heavy defeat, but as team reporter Richard Aikman reflects on a "race well run", the Azzurri have nothing to be ashamed of.
by Richard Aikman
from Krakow
Published: Monday 2 July 2012, 10.55CET

Italy's voyage of discovery

Italy's UEFA EURO 2012 ended with a heavy defeat, but as team reporter Richard Aikman reflects on a "race well run", the Azzurri have nothing to be ashamed of.

"Life is a journey, not a destination," wrote the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and following the Italian team's fortunes from their basecamp in Krakow was a daily reminder of that maxim.

With every game that passed, the adventure continued, and as much as you wanted Italy to do well in order to witness the players you had got to know succeed, from a purely selfish point of view I also knew that every victory meant the prolongation of the journey.

©Getty Images

Andrea Pirlo and coach Cesare Prandelli after the final defeat in Kyiv

Being based in Krakow was a godsend because it is a beautiful city I would recommend to anyone. The fact that no matches were staged there only added to its charm, because it meant you could live the tournament as the locals did, by watching matches in fan zones or pubs and taste a little of the national fervour.

Most of my time was spent ensconced in Italy's media centre, Casa Azzurri, where team press conferences took place on a daily basis. It was an amazing place to work, with gourmet Italian food served in the restaurant and espresso coffee available on tap at its two bars.

By the end of my stay, the kindly Casa Azzurri staff all knew me by name. It was a sanctuary for Italian journalists, a dream palace for imposters like me: my Polish remains negligible, but my Italian came on in leaps and bounds.

And all the while Italy kept improving. We had the privilege of seeing the players train, and holding one-on-one interviews with them in a cubbyhole next to the players' gym which we decked out with a black backdrop and the Italian tricolore. We struck up a good relationship with the players – Antonio Cassano and Alessandro Diamanti were particularly amusing – and without fail the Azzurri kept reaching the next round.

It wasn't just that Italy were winning but they were playing the game in the right way: passing and moving and creating chances by the dozen under Cesare Prandelli's free-flowing philosophy.

Back in Italy, results were uniting a nation beset by economic strife and Saturday's headline in the Corriere dello Sport reflected the psyche of a nation when it mocked up a photo of Italian prime minister Mario Monti with a Mario Balotelli-style haircut heralding 'The two SuperMarios.'

On the field of play, Italy drew with Spain and Croatia, overcame the Republic of Ireland and England and saved their best for Germany, who were beaten 2-1 thanks to an outstanding team performance.

I couldn't have asked for any more, save perhaps for a final victory, but in the end the final proved a bridge too far. The 4-0 defeat by Spain will have wounded the pride of the players, but in time they will look back on a race well run, and so will I.

Last updated: 24/01/13 10.57CET

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