Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

England, Italy intertwined in Beautiful Game

Sunday's match evokes recollection of how sport was spread

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It has been more than a decade since the national teams of England and Italy met on a football pitch -- an eternity in a world of profligate FIFA dates -- and yet the two nations remain somehow intertwined when it comes to the sport that has done so much to define them these last hundred years or so.

In the beginning it was the English who were the givers. Mediterranean port cities from Genoa in the north to Palermo in Sicily were the first football hotbeds in a country that would, one day, have experienced more international success than any continental rival.

Trade with the Far East was largely to thank for this, and as the English ships passed through their ports en route to India the Italians were quick to pick up on the indirect export.

James Richardson Spensley, an English doctor, is often credited with planting football's deepest roots in Italy, but in his excellent book Calcio: A history of Italian Football, author John Foot begins by telling the story of Edoardo Bosio, an employee of a Nottingham textile company who brought the game to Turin.

Bosio founded the city's first club in 1891, and it's hardly surprising that the first Italian clubs to contest a notable, inter-city match hailed from Genoa and Turin.

But if football was, indeed, an English gift, its value has been repaid time and again, especially recently.

Two of the last three Premier League managers to have won the title have been Italians, and both -- Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini -- have lifted FA Cups in that span as well. Roberto Di Matteo, who guided Chelsea to FA Cup glory last month, also became the first manager of a London club to win the European Cup when the Blues defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May 19.

Then there is Fabio Capello. The 66-year-old Friulian became just the second non-Englishman to manage the Three Lions (Sven-Goran Eriksson was the first) when he succeeded Steve McClaren in 2008, and with 28 wins to show from 42 matches, his winning percentage of .667 became (and is) the highest in the history of the English national team.

Capello, of course, resigned his position as England manager following a dispute with the FA last February, but the team that takes the field against Italy on Sunday will nevertheless have his fingerprints all over it. Glen Johnson, John Terry and Ashley Cole held regular spots in his defensive corps while Scott Parker was re-introduced to the national team under his watch. Steven Gerrard -- England's captain at Euro 2012 -- was also Capello's captain at the 2010 World Cup.

There are no links, however, from the current England side to the one that lost 2-1 to Italy in their last meeting at Elland Road in 2002. But Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian captain at Euro 2012, was the starting goalkeeper for the Azzurri that night and made his biggest save just shy of the hour-mark when Ledley King, making his first senior appearance for England, forced him into a diving stop from nearly 20 yards.

The starting lineups from that match in Leeds are a trip down memory lane. Martyn, Mills, Southgate, Campbell, Bridge, Beckham, Butt, Lampard, Sinclair, Heskey and Owen for England; Buffon, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Nesta, Panucci, Zambrotta, Di Biagio, Doni, Zaneti, Delvecchio and Totti for Italy.

Only Buffon and Lampard have anything to do with their national teams these days, and about half of each squad have since hung up their boots.

Ten years is a long time in a relationship, especially one as volatile as that between international football rivals. Here's hoping England and Italy have a lot more to do with each other in the coming years. They still have a lot to offer one another.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 C11

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