Preview to my Dark Knight Rises review: My Dark Knight review (2008)

After the phenomenal Batman Begins, the Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan, finally hit us with the eagerly anticipated The Dark Knight. Most of the original cast returns as Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are back in their respective roles from the first film. One change is Rachel Dawes, now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal who replaces Katie Holmes (Did Tom Cruise have anything to do with it?). After the success of their first take on Batman, the Nolans faced extremely high expectations this time around.

While Begins focused on themes central to the Batman character such as fear, vengeance and justice, The Dark Knight challenges everyone’s conception of good and evil. In comes the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. A lot of people see a Best Supporting Actor nomination in his performance. I’m not certain about that, but he is extremely effective as the most famous Batman villain. It becomes clear very quickly that this movie attempts to deal with complex issues. After all, distinguishing good from evil is no small task.

To do so, the film pits Batman and the Joker against one another. Batman is good indeed, but it’s not that simple. Joker is evil indeed, but it’s not that simple. The movie, throughout several actions by several characters, constantly reminds us of that. Batman’s vigilante nature attracts suspicion from the people of Gotham City who blame him for the deaths of citizens and cops, especially since his actions have permitted the emergence of intrepid District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

The Joker is clearly a disturbed cookie, as he tells a few different stories about how he got the scars on the sides of his face. Clearly, his childhood was not a pleasant experience. Still, his character is so much more evil than just a Freudian villain who wants to make society pay for his suffering. He believes in just about nothing. He is a self-proclaimed “instrument of chaos”. As Alfred so adequately puts it: “Some men can’t be bought, bullied or reasoned with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” And ironically, it is that which makes Joker the most interesting character of the film by far. On a personal note, I find it sad that after so expertly breaking away from the superhero movie tradition of the villain being the most interesting character in the film, they return to it with The Dark Knight

The Joker’s self-imposed role is to demonstrate to everyone what he sees as the hypocrisy and the futility of the efforts of the forces of good. Therefore, he targets Batman, lieutenant Gordon (Oldman), Rachel Dawes and most importantly, the newly arrived Dent. Too bad for them he is one of these villains so devilishly brilliant that he manages to stay not only one step ahead of his chasers, but one step ahead of the script. Oh, and he’s a mean piece of work. Consider a scene in which he has two ferry boats, one loaded with ordinary citizens and the other with criminals, rigged with explosives and offers both sets of passengers the chance to live. All they have to do is use the detonator to blow up the other boat.

As in Batman Begins, the humans have their screen time and that enables the film to make us care about its characters. That being said, the Rachel Dawes part is rather superfluous and always was. Her only purpose is to set up actions by other characters. This is true in spite of the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal is an upgrade over Katie Holmes as Rachel. Everything about her is a throwback to traditional love interests across the cinematic universe and there is something unnerving about her uncompromising self-righteousness, as she knows she possesses the values of ultimate good. In the world of nuance and grey zones that is Gotham City, she is the one character that is without these characteristics. Therefore, in the context of this film, she clashes from the rest of the scenery. Besides, she is rendered even more unnecessary by the ever more interesting Alfred, who in this picture, faces a cruel dilemma on what to do with an important letter. Nevertheless, we care about every character outside of Dawes, which makes the movie’s shortcomings even more frustrating.

One minor flaw lies in the pacing. The movie takes too long to garner momentum and get really interesting, although an early scene involving Joker making a pen disappear is just great. However, a few failings in the Nolans’ take on the story hamper the film. Joker really is a great villain and he does work really well to turn Dent into the bitter Two-Face. But, in the end, Two-Face is a limited character. He is so because his sole bitterness drives him and because he is the Joker’s creation. He is a one-dimensional character. From a storytelling perspective, it works, I guess, but I wanted more Two-Face.

If only that was all. Let us first credit the writers for attempting to make a nuanced film. Near the end, there is a fascinating conversation between Batman and Joker as the former has finally caught the latter. Joker drives home one of the central points this movie tries to make, which pertains to the fact that the line between good and evil is so indistinct that it only takes “a little push” to cross it. However, by that point I was still recovering from Batman’s remarkably simplistic and naive interpretation of the Joker’s “social experiment” on a set of boats. This wraps up a somewhat disappointing showing for Bruce Wayne/Batman, who regresses from Batman Begins. After such great development in Begins, it is as if the Nolans had nothing more to tell us about his character. Morgan Freeman’s little jab at the Patriot Act, however noble, feels forced, like the Nolans didn’t quite know where to insert it. And then there’s Commissioner Gordon’s pretentious monologue to end the film, an ending which, aptly set up by conversations between Bruce and Alfred though it may be, stretched logic too far for me to accept it.   

All this being said, we must not forget this is a terrific movie. This is due in part to the fact the performances are excellent, that the screenplay has tons of strong points and that we care about most of the characters. It also has (and this should not be understated) absolutely mind-boggling action, which is amazingly well done. However, the flaws I mentioned in the previous paragraph are very real and prevent The Dark Knight from being the great film it was meant to be. Finally, about Heath Ledger, to describe his performance as Oscar-worthy might be pushing it, as the part itself deserves as much credit as he does. This is an outstanding Joker, which makes it even more unfortunate that these two talented screenwriters couldn’t quite elevate their main character in the same way.

Preview to my The Dark Knight Rises review: my old Batman Begins review from ’05

The real Batman finally stands up. The latest installment of the Batman series has arrived, and as the title suggests, it tells the story of how Batman became Batman. Christopher Nolan takes over the direction and heals the wounds of watching Joel Schumacher turn the series into a Hollywood love story with Bat-nipples, a disco Gotham city with club-like colors, silver costumes and Seal songs. Remember the “I’ve been kissed by a rose” song? In a Batman movie? Really?

We’re talking about the real Batman here. Nolan shows that he understands the dark atmosphere surrounding Batman’s life story as Tim Burton had when he made the first two Batman films.

Christian Bale is the newest candidate to put on the black suit. Despite his inexperience in the Batman world, he manages to portray the most convincing and realistic Batman we’ve seen. He is better looking than Michael Keaton and not nearly as lost as Val Kilmer or George Clooney. The tremendous dedication he put into returning Batman to respectability also transpires throughout the movie.

Other characters include Katie Holmes as district attorney Rachel Dawes and Bruce’s love interest, Liam Neeson as Ducard (Bruce’s trainer and mentor) and Michael Caine as Alfred. Speaking of Alfred, this is really the first time we see his character take a human dimension aside of preparing Bruce’s meals and cleaning up the Batmobile. Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred is admirable and he really is a nice father figure to Bruce. Rachel doubles as Bruce’s conscience as he struggles to give credibility to his identity as Bruce Wayne while fighting crime as Batman.

Nolan brings darkness to the movie by making it revolve around the theme of fear. Ducard’s training is based on mastering one’s fears. Batman is created as Bruce Wayne becomes one with his worst fear and Batman’s mystique is about putting fear inside his enemies. The bad guys’ weapon is some kind of fear spray and Batman eventually attempts to save Gotham City from a chronic fear epidemic.

The early stages of the movie don’t abide by the rules of chronology as Wayne is shown meeting Ducard as an adult and clashing with his worst fear (bats) as a child. However, the pieces slowly but ingeniously come together as we see that Bruce is trying to avenge the death of his parents and that he left his relationship with Rachel on a sour note in the process. We get to realize that while Bruce is training with Ducard.

After the final stage of his training goes horribly wrong, Bruce returns to Gotham in order to get back into his family’s world and working to become the city’s defender; in other words, creating the Batman persona. He comes to realize that the city is more corrupt than ever and that includes his late father’s company, Wayne enterprises.

After he becomes Batman, he starts to deal with the criminals of Gotham and working his way up the chain to find out who is behind a master plan to destroy Gotham City. There is Carmine Falcone, played by the extraordinary Tom Wilkinson. You’ll have trouble believing the guy is an Englishman when you hear that New Jersey-like accent. There is also Cillian Murphy, who plays the twisted psychiatrist Thomas Crane. He arrouses suspicion because of his tendency to have thugs transfered from jail to Arkham asylum. There is also the fact that he might as well be constantly followed by a subtitle reading “I could be nothing other than a creepy bad guy.”

Two other actors who are worthy of mentioning are Morgan Freeman as Bruce Wayne’s ally Lucius Fox and Rutger Hauer as Mr. Earle, the guy who weaseled his way into the job of Wayne Enterprises board director. Freeman is his usual noble person and you’d want to stamp Hauer’s head on a wall. Fox could be called a technology designer. His greatest creation, the Batmobile, looks like a mix between a Lamborghini and a tank.

In the end, Batman Begins is not just the best Batman film ever made or even a fine effort to make us forget about Batman and Robin, it is one of the better films you’ll see this year. It packs everything from the excellent visuals to the deep and interesting storyline to good acting from all the characters that matter. It really is a very complete and excellent film. What I want to know is : When is the next one coming out ?

La NCAA s’y prend à “Vitesse Grand V” pour faire une “Erreur Grand E”

On pouvait facilement le craindre, mais plus difficilement s’en surprendre. La NCAA, ce médiocre organisme qui peine à faire respecter ses propres règlements, entreprend maintenant de faire respecter ceux des autres. Après que Jerry Sandusky, l’ancien coordonnateur défensif des Nittany Lions de l’Université Penn State, eut été reconnu coupable de 45 des 48 chefs d’accusation pour abus sexuels sur des mineurs auxquels il faisait face, la NCAA tabasse Penn State et son programme de football avec la sanction la plus sévère qu’elle décerne depuis la fameuse “Peine de Mort”, imposée à SMU en 1987.

Les Nittany Lions seront sous probation pour les cinq prochaines années. Ils ne pourront participer aux Bowl games d’après-saison pendant les quatre prochaines campagnes. Au cours de cette même période, ils auront 40 bourses d’études de moins à attribuer à des recrues potentielles. L’université devra aussi débourser une amende de 60 millions de dollars. La statue à l’effigie de l’ancien entraîneur-chef Joe Paterno, coupable de n’avoir pas dénoncé Sandusky après avoir été mis au courant des faits, a déjà été retirée. Et toutes les victoires de l’équipe depuis 1998 seront annulées.

Soit, il était question que Penn State reçoive également la Peine de Mort. J’ai traité de cette possibilité et des conséquences concrètes que la Peine de Mort entraîne dans ce billet: (désolé pour ceux qui ne lisent pas l’anglais). Au bout du compte, le programme de football de Penn State pourra compétitionner l’an prochain, ce que la Peine de Mort lui aurait interdit. Néanmoins, on s’explique mal le sentiment du président de l’université Rodney Erickson, qui dit essentiellement que le programme a évité le pire. En termes d’évitement du pire, on a déjà vu mieux. La perte des bourses et des Bowl games est un châtiment extrêmement grave dont les conséquences sur le recrutement se feront sentir pendant de nombreuses années. Et cette amende de 60 millions percera un joli trou dans les finances de l’université et, à n’en pas douter, dans celles du département des sports de PSU. On aurait salué une initiative qui aurait alloué cette somme au dédommagement, si imparfait et superficiel soit-il, des victimes.

Mais bon, revenons au ridicule de ces sanctions. La NCAA, poussée par l’une de ces attaques d’hypocrisie et d’incompétence dont elle avec souffre avec déprimante régularité, fait les choses de travers d’un bout à l’autre. Elle cède à la pression populaire (qui, on le sait bien, n’est pas toujours garante de sagesse et de clairvoyance), se mêle d’un processus judiciaire qui ne relève aucunement de ses champs de compétence et, avec une maladresse tristement prévisible, rate la cible et pénalise des gens qui n’ont joué aucun rôle dans la triste affaire Sandusky.

On aurait déjà apprécié que la NCAA sache reconnaître où s’arrêtent ses champs de compétence et où commencent ceux du système judiciaire. Mais à défaut de cela, il était essentiel que quelqu’un dans la bâtisse cerne la nature de ce crime. Nous ne sommes pas devant un scandale de recrutement illégal ni devant un cas de supercherie académique, manquements que la NCAA peut sanctionner. Nous ne sommes pas devant un cas où un programme de football aurait enfreint les règles du sport universitaire pour se donner un avantage injuste. Nous sommes devant un crime humain, perpétré par un prédateur dont le châtiment doit être déterminé par un système punitif bien plus performant et mieux conçu que celui de la NCAA. De fait, voilà exactement ce qui est arrivé.

Cependant, incapables de laisser la justice faire son travail, les grands manitous de la NCAA ont senti le besoin de faire quelque chose, ne serait-ce que pour qu’on ne puisse les accuser de n’avoir rien fait. « Nous devions agir », a dit Mark Emmert, président de la NCAA. Temps mort! Pourquoi? Que restait-il à faire que la justice n’avait pas déjà fait? Qui, parmi ceux dont la culpabilité a été prouvée ou pourrait être soupçonnée, est touché par ces sanctions?

Je ne vois personne. De ces pénalités nul des coupables ne souffrira. Sandusky a déjà été condamné par le système judiciaire états-unien à passer le reste de sa misérable vie cloitré en prison. À n’en pas douter, Joe Paterno, dont la tragique complaisance a permis à Sandusky de continuer à aggresser d’autres malheureuses victimes, aurait été la cible de la justice s’il n’était pas décédé peu de temps après avoir été limogé par Penn State. L’ancien président de l’université Graham Spanier a lui aussi été congédié et pourrrait être traîné en cour si l’on peut trouver des preuves qu’il a lui aussi été complaisant.

D’ailleurs, lorsque la NCAA a rendu publiques les sanctions contre PSU lundi, Emmert a prononcé la phrase qui montre qu’il est complètement à côté de la plaque dans son raisonnement : « […] nous pouvons imposer des sanctions qui forceront Penn State à rebâtir une culture sportive qui a horriblement mal tourné. »

Voilà bien triste image que celle du président de la NCAA condamné à martyriser ainsi la logique pour tenter d’enlever à son explication une particule de son caractère indigeste! Cette histoire n’en est pas une de culture sportive, encore moins une qui « transcende le sport universitaire », comme cela a été suggéré par un commentateur du réseau ESPN qui (je l’espère) tentait de se faire l’avocat du diable. Cette histoire ne transcende pas le sport universitaire, car elle n’en est pas une de sport universitaire. Ceci est l’histoire d’une série de viols qui, il se trouve, ont été commis par un membre du milieu sportif universitaire. Ceci est l’histoire d’un pédophile qui, il se trouve, était également entraîneur de football. Que la plus haute instance du sport amateur états-unien néglige de tenir compte de cette nuance relève, peu importe les raisons qui expliquent ce choix, d’une grave incompétence. Le fait d’avoir mal cerné le problème donne une mesure qui, en plus de ne pas condamner les coupables, condamne des innocents à leur place.

Je dois avouer avoir eu une pensée empathique pour tous les joueurs de l’équipe de Penn State. La NCAA se défend de les pénaliser indûment en rappellant qu’elle leur permet de transférer à l’université de leur choix sans pénalité. Non seulement est-ce la moindre des choses, mais c’est bien faible consolation que voilà. On les force essentiellement à  choisir entre: (a) endosser l’infamie et le sombre destin du programme qu’ils ont choisi sans connaître quoi que ce soit des crimes de Sandusky ou (b) plier bagage et de se faire un autre chez-soi ailleurs en espérant trouver un programme et un milieu aussi accueillant que celui qu’ils avaient choisi au départ. Et le seul crime qu’ils ont commis est celui d’avoir choisi Penn State. Pathétique.

De plus, ceux qui cherchent une cerise pour décorer le sundae peuvent se réjouir du fait que la NCAA ait enlevé des victoires à Penn State et surtout, à son légendaire ex-entraineur Paterno, décision à laquelle je ne m’objecte pas. Le côté problématique de cette sanction réside dans le fait que la NCAA s’y prend n’importe comment. Il me semble pour le moins illogique d’ôter à Paterno ses victoires à partir de 1998, ce qui correspond à la saison précédant le départ de Sandusky. Ce choix s’explique mal étant donné que Sandusky a été entraîneur à Penn State pendant 30 ans à partir de 1969, dont 22 comme coordonnateur défensif (1977-1999). Pourquoi ne pas sabrer durant cette période? Seul la NCAA peut répondre.

Il est difficile de voir une coincidence derrière le fait que la justice états-unienne ait tout de suite identifié ceux qui méritaient d’être accusés au criminel pendant que la NCAA, cet icône d’ambiguité, écorche des innocents en voulant transmettre un de ces fameux « messages forts ». Ces politiciens et officiels sportifs commencent à me lasser tous avec leurs messages forts, qui sont souvent des perles d’hypocrisie et de vacuité. Le problème avec les sanctions de la NCAA contre Penn State est que non seulement empestent-elles l’hypocrisie et la vacuité, mais elles ont des effets très réels sur des individus qui ne méritent rien du cauchemar dont ils ont hérité.


On Italy’s loss in the Euro 2012 final and why Gli Azzurri still have much to look forward to

Several Spanish players showed up on the field looking worn down, Casillas and Xavi come to mind. The latter had been having a fairly forgettable tournament up to this point and it was even suggested Andres Iniesta be put in his role. Both he and Spain looked ripe for the picking. And then it started. OK, for 10 minutes or so, Italy have their moments. And then Spain get mad. Iniesta plays Jack the Ripper with Giorgio Chiellini, leaving him exposed in a footrace against Cesc Fabregas, who subsenquently crosses it perfectly for David Silva’s head. 1-0 Spain. Uh-oh… If they keep this up… And they did. Late first half, Spanish left back Jordi Alba makes perhaps the sprint of the tournament, starting in his team’s half and latching on to a Xavi through ball so amazing I can’t help but yell out, “what a f*ckin’ ball!” Alba slots it past Gigi Buffon in a way that would make any striker proud and it’s 2-0 before halftime.

The other two goals come when the Italians are stuck playing with 10 men after Thiago Motta’s injury, but they don’t matter nearly as much. It’s all about that first half. Yes, the Spaniards surrender more possession than usual. And yes, this is tiki-taka, but there’s something different. They still work the passing triangles every Englishman is seamingly tired of, but they move the ball with the kind of purpose we had come to miss. This is tiki-taka, the Euro 2008 version. Every time they get close to the Italian penalty area, we hold our breath. Every Spanish attack looks like a goal waiting to happen. When analysts say Spain play the game the way it should be played, that’s what they mean. It’s a flat-out clinic out there.

So Spain has retained the European championship. I cannot say I’m surprised. Despite not always being as entertaining as they were four years ago, not to mention the fact that their tiki-taka brand of possession football did not work as flawlessly as it had in the past, la Furia Roja is now the first team to capture three consecutive major tournaments. Germany probably had the most talent, but that only gets you so far, as their lousy performance in the semi-finals allowed a surprising Italian team to tear up the script and slip into the final. There are those who will say the unflattering 4-0 scoreline provides vindication for the Germans’ claim that they “belonged in the final more than the Italians.” I must disagree. Italy were not greatly inferior to Spain and were worthy finalists, despite the fact that few, save for the most optimistic nationals, didn’t expect them to get there. The first game of the round robin phase between these two teams, which Spain should have won, but didn’t thanks to Fernando Torres squandering two golden scoring opportunities, was much more indicative of how close both teams are. And despite the final’s lopsided scoreline, Azzurri fans should find many reasons for optimism after the pain of defeat subsides somewhat.

In my opinion, what looked a humiliating loss can be relativized to a degree, and what happened to Italy in the finals took place for three reasons. First off, I must say I feel for Italian manager Cesare Prandelli. After an entire tournament of brilliant coaching, he got his tactics all wrong for the very first time when it mattered most. What possessed him to start central defender Giorgio Chiellini out of position at left back? Chiellini, whose lack of foot speed was so flagrantly exposed by the not-overly-pacey Cesc Fabregas on Spain’s first goal, would leave soon after the goal with an injury. Prandelli might have figured he didn’t have a choice, but that hypothesis was itself disproven as Chiellini’s replacement, Federico Balzaretti, looked both more comfortable in defence and threatening down the wing than Chiellini possibly could have. Chiellini is a traditional central defender in that he is a towering type who’s very adept at aerial defending as well as a good header of the ball, but he doesn’t dazzle you with mobility and the Spanish attack could likely have kept picking on him had he stayed in the game. Moreover, given how much Italy likes to attack out wide with its fullbacks, the decision to play the slow-footed Chiellini there is even more puzzling.

Speaking of wide play, you also have to wonder, after Italian fullbacks had the Spanish defence stretched out like a spandex on Miami Beach in the first game when Prandelli went with a 5-3-2, why the coach would choose a lineup with such limited wide options. This is especially weird considering the fact that Spain tends to crowd the middle of the field with its 4-3-3 lineup and forces opponents to attack out wide.

Prandelli started the game with a T-shaped midfield that had a line made of three central midfielders (De Rossi, Marchisio and Montolivo) with Andrea Pirlo right behind them. The manager painted his attack into a corner using this tactic. Montolivo’s selection over Thiago Motta was a little surprising considering the former had been fairly anonymous throughout the tournament whereas Motta is more of a defensive-minded player with a high work rate who can provide the occasional spark in attack, much like the excellent De Rossi. But today, the Spaniards crowded the midfield, leaving Montolivo and De Rossi, two players who simply do not widen out, stuck in a perpetual traffic jam, and forced Andrea Pirlo to attempt too many long balls for Mario Balotelli. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that the Spanish were apparently so scared of Balotelli’s speed that they had Sergio Ramos playing about three yards off him the entire time, thus nullifying any potential impact from the Italian’s athleticism. Yes, the Spanish did a good job limiting Italian scoring opportunities, but the Azzurri setup did most of the job for them.

It must also be said that the Italians had the worst luck with injuries. First, Chiellini had to come off in the first half, forcing Prandelli to replace him. In the second half, the coach made the right choice by taking out a mostly inoffensive Antonio Cassano and replacing him with the instinctive Antonio Di Natale, who got himself two scoring chances within minutes of entering the game. That left Prandelli with one sub, a sub he used to swap Riccardo Montolivo for Thiago Motta. But two minutes after entering the game, Motta was forced to leave with a hamstring injury. With no substitutions left, Italy was forced to try and eliminate a 2-0 deficit with 10 men. Not against Spain, you won’t. This was simply not Prandelli’s day.

Finally, you simply have to hand it to the Spanish team. They say big players show up in big games. Well, that’s exactly what they did today. After facing complaints that they were boring and even sometimes negative, the Spaniards went Lebron-James-in-Game-6-against-the-Celtics on the Italians, and on all of us. It’s like they just got tired of the criticism and said, “Look, we’ve been the best in the world for four years now. We know you want a new story, but you’re not getting one. We’re still the best. So stop criticizing us because you’re subconsciously or consciously jealous that the English, or the French, or the Italians, or anyone, couldn’t possibly play the way we do. Stop talking about the things we supposedly can’t do. Stop judging us by standards no team in the history of the game has ever been judged by. Enough is enough.”

90 minutes later, all those people who kept endlessly repeating that Spain weren’t the same, or that they were negative, or that playing Cesc Fabregas as a false nine was a bad idea (guilty!), or who were propping up Italy after jumping on the Mario Balotelli bandwagon faster than anti-Italians got around to saying he’s really Ghanaian, all those people suddenly had nothing left to do but bow down to the kings.

Gli Azzurri have a bright future

That the Italians “weren’t there yet” is undeniable. Still, I told my father before the match that “no matter what happens, this tournament is mission accomplished for the Italians,” and I meant it. It’s not just that nobody expected them to get to the finals, which is certainly true. But there was more to it than that. Most people associate Italian football with hilarious manerisms, lots of diving, and boring variants of Catenaccio, yet there was a surprising positivity about this Italian team. In the first game against Spain, they created most of the best scoring chances. They figured you could trouble the German defence, so they unleashed Mario Balotelli on them, while showing the typically Italian defensive organization. They were most often fundamentally sound. But perhaps most importantly, save for a few dependable veterans, they were a fairly young team.

Remember how Italy brought Marcello Lippi out of retirement for World Cup 2010 and he bombed it by basically picking the 2006 gang, who had since become the over-the-hill gang? This year, you’d have sworn that never happened. The speed at which Gli Azzurri made the transition from the washed-up 2006 squad to this fiery bunch, not to mention a more positive brand of football, is staggering and represents in itself a tremendous accomplishment for coach Prandelli and this group of players. Somewhere, while he’s finishing his resignation papers, Laurent Blanc is wishing he could have pulled off a similar turnaround with the French team.

Andrea Pirlo, my personal pick for the player of the tournament, is not getting any younger, but lots of young talent also spread its wings in this tournament for the Italians. We already knew about Gigi Buffon’s promising replacement in goal, Paris St-Germain’s Salvatore Sirigu. But for the first time, fullbacks Ignazio Abate and Christian Maggio looked worthy of the Azzurro shirt. Maggio made some really decent-looking runs down the wing when he played, and Abate was solid defensively. Claudio Marchisio carried the outstanding form he displayed at title-winning Juventus this year into the Euros and looked,as he did for Juve, like he has two sets of lungs running around chasing the ball.Gli Azzurri can still rely on the terrific Daniele De Rossi for at least one more tournament, and that’s a good thing considering I thought him to be, before this year’s Euro, Italy’s only world class player under the age of 30.

The Italians should also take comfort in the fact that they were missing their excellent American-born striker Guiseppe Rossi, who plays for Spanish side Villareal, due to injury. When he returns, he should be a force to be reckoned with. And of course, Italy potentially have an absolute stud in striker Mario Balotelli, who has the merit of never being boring for the simple reason that you never know what incredibly brilliant or stupid thing he’s going to do next. He also has the kind of ability that can get him mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. But channelling Balotelli’s often self-destructive energy will be key for both Manchester City and Italy. The Italians do not have another player with Balotelli’s upside anywhere, and it’s imperative for them that he keep displaying the excellent conduct he showed throughout Euro 2012 in the future. If he can do that and if the rest of Italy’s young talent can keep getting better, Gli Azzurri will not be underdogs in Brazil 2014.


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