Moments of joy before the semi-final
As befits a team with serious ambition, Italy quickly switched their focus to the task ahead after celebrating an historic quarter-final win over the Czech Republic. They will need every inch of that focus to overcome a strong Argentinean side when their FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 semi-final kicks off on December 3. We caught up with the Squadra Azzurra on a buoyant but reserved evening of celebrations.
Long after having inflicted their 3-0 defeat on the Czechs, the Italian players were still mingling around the NTU venue in Taipei City. Thoughts of getting back onto the bus were far away as Alessandro Nuccorini's men signed autograph after autograph on a groundbreaking night for Italian futsal, milking the moment for every ounce of its deserved worth.
After they had clashed verbally during the game, it hardly went unnoticed that Nuccorini took time to pose for a few photos with star player Adriano Foglia. By then, victory had erased any tension and Nuccorini chose to look back on the episode philosophically. "These things happen when two people work together," he said. "He kind of looks at him as a son," revealed a member of the Italian staff, as manager and player smiled for the cameras.
Eventually, the ecstatic history-makers made their way to the coach and headed to the Hotel Imperial. From the back row, Grana led the rest in song, with his joyous team-mates providing a chorus of, "We're European champions! Just us! No one else!" while an impassioned Foglia sang back, "We're in the semi-finals!" from the front. Even Nuccorini himself could be found banging on the ceiling and windows with unbridled jubilation.
Red hair or shaved head?
Like any self-respecting team, Italy have their own mascot. In this case, it's Piero, a member of their staff, and whether he is being interrupted all through an interview or ending up on the wrong end of the team's practical jokes, the man with the extremely pink forehead has become the group's good luck charm. "Piero, if we win, you either have to colour your hair red or shave it all off," threatened Nuccorini, given the luxury to unwind by his charges' progress.
Once back at the hotel, however, the mood changed dramatically. Every man's thoughts turned to the upcoming challenge as they left their bags in their rooms and filed into the dining hall for a feast of vegetables, meat, fish and, of course, pizza. The Italian staff have made every effort to ensure the players feel at home here and the 700kg of provisions they have shipped over includes enough olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, cooked meats and parmesan to fit out one of Rome's best trattorias.
The players hardly touched their food, though, either affected by excitement or the first pangs of nervousness. One by one they left the dining table, having sought permission from 'Mister' Nuccorini to go for a much-needed massage. Some handed a note to the team doctor, asking if he could see them in their room and, with the semi-final just two days away, all the knocks and muscle pains will have to be dealt with as soon as possible. A few stragglers stayed behind to relive crucial moments of the Czech Republic game, while Alessandro Nuccorini spoke to the Italian press, but, slowly, this impressive hall quietened down for the night.
And with that it was time to let the Squadra Azzurra begin to get ready for their Argentinean test. Dedicated to a man, another chapter in the history of Italian futsal could well be written on Friday, and one can only imagine what lies in store for Piero if Italy take another giant step towards the grand prize.