It’s 10.40pm local time, a group of sublimely talented Spaniards are hugging and celebrating on an unsteady television set, a group of all-too-sober Italians have disappeared into what has become just another Sunday night and the bar owner - dressed in a headache-inducing lime green t-shirt - surveys the debris of scattered chairs outside his empty establishment. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Or rather it was, but the Italians, as with the raucous Irish fans who saw their team soundly beaten by the same scoreline, dared to believe.
There was a nervous tension as soon as the television set was switched on at Bar Maguttiana, just 200 yards from the sea front in Forte Dei Marmi in Tuscany. It’s a small but rich town littered with designer shops and bejewelled pensioners on bicycles. Roman Abramovich is known to bring his yacht here from time to time, but tonight is all about carefully nurtured footballing talent, rather than the lavish spending that finally got him his Champions League dream win for Chelsea in May.
A small, overly tiled, badly lit affair, Bar Marguttiana stands on the corner of the street and boasts a TV precariously balanced on two wine boxes in front of several rows of tables in a sectioned-off part of the street. As kick-off looms, punters nab chairs from wherever they can and bait Mr Lime Shirt who looks nervous as his bar doubles in size to block the road. Not ones to dampen my hopes of fulfilled stereotypes, two lads in identical baby blue t-shirts with gelled hair ‘banter’ with some passing girls in dubious white jeans. A woman at the front in Italian colours is taking photos of her unimpressed looking husband, who looks not unlike Pat Butcher. No-one’s saying much, everyone is staring intently at Rai1’s build-up.
And my, what build-up - after healthy sponsors Nutella and McDonald’s have introduced the TV coverage, an anchor so rigid he makes Des Lynam look like Lee Evans introduces pictures from around the country. We get a voluptuous blonde (equivalent to their Cat Deeley) fronting a packed piazza in Rome, a baffled looking brunette (Claire Sweeney) trying to ignore rowdy fans in Milan and a lonely looking bloke (Claire Balding) sat at a desk with a small child.
In the bar, Buffon gets a round of applause for belting out the national anthem with his eyes shut Aled Jones-style, and back in the bar, one of the gel-heads and a bloke in a Fillipo Inzaghi shirt sing along. Directly before the match, there’s a montage which includes shots of the World Cup win in 1982, the Pope and bizarrely, an Olympic fencing win in the 1990s. It almost makes you proud of Eddie the Eagle.
And we’re off, and everyone leans forward intently. A guy with a Sideshow Bob haircut attempts a joke with Mr Lime Shirt only to get a stoney-faced response. The early exchanges look promising for Italy. De Rossi looks lively, Balotelli up for it and the passing is fluid. Hope in the bar begins to rise palpably, eyes widen and even the cameramen are too focussed on a tense encounter to pick out ladies in the crowd. The pundits bemoan Chiellini’s early exit through injury and their Lawrenson proclaims it a big loss, but unlike Lawrenson, he manages to disguise his contempt for the game. Cassano is implored by the fans to make more of an impact. Beside me, my girlfriend, enduring every second, makes friends with an artist from Florence - she’s here for the opening of an open air exhibition including her work on the same street.
Then Silva scores. A neat, powerful header meets the roof of the net with the air of a seagull arriving with familiarity at a chip shop. The bar collectively groans but one man, dressed in white like some evil messiah, shoots up to celebrate. The celebration lasts no longer than a snap of the fingers but the exposed Spaniard turns, apologises like a teacher who’s stubbed his toe and sworn to those behind him and shakes the hand of Inzaghi.
What follows feels predictable. The Spaniards up the pressure but the Italians briefly stand firm, Pirlo executes a superb Moore-esque tackle that turns gasps of despair into delight. The second goal goes in, the Spaniard jumps up, this time exiting the street bar, instantly on the phone, presumably to his betting agent. The barmaid tries to cheer up some old timers near the back of the bar with a little song and a shimmy. She raises a smile from a bloke in tortoise shell glasses but nothing more.
With half time comes a rush of bum bags to the bar. A girl in sparkly hot pants with a giant alsatian has turned up and is attracting attention, while the dog chews on a bike tyre. Rai1 offers up two pundits - one of which looks like Gregg Wallace, though Torode has been replaced by Mike Bassett. Bassett focuses on Balotelli’s liveliness, Wallace mutters something, presumably echoing Bassett’s views or intimating a buttery biscuit base is in order. Several fans have already left to go home. The artist from Florence goes to meet a collector who has commissioned a piece of art with no remit - she’s as nervous as the football fans.
The atmosphere lifts with the second half, and the Italians begin to come into it more. The gel-heads in the bar gesticulate wildly at the Azzurri and the ‘ooooh’ that goes up when Balotelli clean misses the ball in the air could’ve been heard in the Vatican. Pirlo begins to take some control, duelling with Iniesta and Fabregas but to no avail. The hope begins to sap from the bar; Sideshow Bob has lost interest and skipped off elsewhere, Mr Lime Shirt is cleaning down the counter and even Inzaghi looks a beaten man. A few glimpses of hope are not enough as the third and fourth go in in quick succession, Fernando Torres bookending a torrid two years which began with a World Cup win with a goal few could begrudge him. The fourth is enough for the bar to deplete completely and when Sergio Ramos runs away from the goal smiling after a cheeky attempt to nip it in past Buffon, it’s a marker that the game is over. Tortoise shell takes a long slug of warm Becks, the ghost of the tumultous defeat to the French in Euro 2000 cannot yet be eradicated.
Italy put their all into an engaging encounter but there was never a way back after the first 45 minutes. The people of Forte Dei Maimi, muted, with flags painted on their faces smudged in the heat, trudged home through the town, dreading a Monday morning with added venom.
History is told by the winners, but tonight the losers offered at least glimpses of glory.
Article originally appeared on TheFootballRamble.com