Twenty-nine June 2000; “Such a perfect day”. Lou Reed’s soundtrack is the perfect record to sit in the armchair and hear this story. The story of a football match that between sacred and profane gave Italy qualification to the final of the European Championship. The story of the day when the Vatican Council with a historic blue smoke proclaimed the sanctification of Francesco Toldo from Padua at the same time that another Francis, with the cherubo arm, patented the blow of the “spoon”.
The perfect day actually began under bad auspices. Dino Zoff’s Italy in the European Championship in Belgium and the Netherlands take the field for the semi-finals of the European Championship. At the Amsterdam Arena (now Johan Crujiff Arena), it feels like playing inside an orange. The spots of blue are Don’t forget me in a field of tulips. The Amsterdam Arena draws the borders of the whole Netherlands; a nation of 51,300 spectators. The Netherlands is the host team, just scrambled 6-1 in the quarter-finals to Yugoslavia and travels with the wind in the stern. Italy comes from a trio of victories in the first group stage and in the quarter-finals has just taken out the not irresistible Romania.
Zoff chooses a more defensive Italy leaving Tan on the bench and moving Flower behind the Juventine attacking pair Inzaghi-Del Piero. Merk’s opening whistle gives the Dutch monologue the ciak. After 3′ Kluivert has the first chance to unlock the match. The Netherlands is too disruptive a river for Italian embankments. The first milestone jumps on the shot of Bergkamp that hits the pole. The second collapse comes at half-time when Zambrotta lays an undemonized Zenden and takes two yellows in 13′ leaving the poor blue flowers under the rabid orange river. The more complicated things get, the more the director takes on epic contours. The third and final failure comes 4′ after The expulsion of Zambrotta. Nesta prevents Kluivert from taking a position in the air; for Merk is rigor.Captain Orange, Frank De Boer, is on the puck. Among the stakes Toldo begins to chew the taste of glory.
Think of his friend Alberto who called him on the phone during the technical session: “Everything matches, the numbers don’t lie. You’re a goalkeeper so there’s going to be a lot of penalties. But don’t be afraid: you take them all or they’re wrong, but you’ll be the protagonist.”. Alberto’s voice bounces in toldo’s head attached to that factory gray uniform. At that very moment Francis has the air of the metalworker about to go out for the lunch break. The mouth tilted in a grimace of rage and the gloves inached with fatigue. Particularly nervous because he was doing so much and now because of Merk he also had to skip lunch and come back for overtime.
Call it the Hulk, St. Francis, Ironaman: what you prefer. Toldo on that shot by De Boer, on that push to his left begins the path to sanctification. “Before, penalties were my nightmare. Every time I thought “now he scores goals”, then with a specific job on responsiveness everything changed. Against Holland I felt invincible. I was screaming “pull, pull, I take everything.” From the 33rd minute there were ten of us for the red in Zambrotta, but there are competitions where a goalkeeper is and decides there is none declared to the Journal of Sport years later.
Toldo was particularly shot that summer afternoon and went into terminator mode. The momentum of the Holland River slows down but does not stop. Davids it is a cold, sudden current, teammate Iuliano lays it out in the penalty air. Toldo non-protest stands on the door line converting blood into electricity. To take the pressure, they have to use the clamps. Francis’ corner is wrong but Patrick’s ball slams on the post and Maldini puts his signature into the post, sweeping in slip. Italy saved again and took the game to extra time.
The more the pressure grows, the more proud Italy is. The sails of Holland are so tense that they are about to break. In the head of the blue team, the ransom light is lit. Is in the situation of greatest desperation, where all the others would throw in the towel that the Italian has the recklessness to react with an energy hidden in his genetic code. A fire that is released only in cases of maximum danger as a lever to be pulled only in an emergency. Is the lever of Italianness, like the star of super Mario’s invincibility. A dose of swagger, cunning, technical skill and speed of reasoning inherited from the most feared and impressive empire in human history. The Italians remember to be the tree of humanity and the others to make the figure of the twig. What was at first an orange becomes a silent clove, what was a river runs out in a trickle.
Italy plays with a patriotic spirit. The film now takes on the contours of the Kolossal. Holland-Italy will decide on the penalty shootout, in the door under the Orange wall. The first to move the step towards the diskette is From Biagio. His unmistakable baldness freezes the blood to all the Italians who were traumatized by the penalty pulled on the crossbar in the ’98 World Cup in France. “Rest assured that if we go to penalties, Gigi” the usual chorus of teammates. Gigi and her monkey start on the floppy disk. A strong right-hander to drive away Barthez’s ghost and take revenge expected two years. It’s up to the orange ones again who seem to disappear inside their uniforms. Frank De Boer again against Toldo. This time Captain Orange tries the central solution. Toldo is a sliding door, so does this one. Pessotto makes it two to zero for Italy. The Netherlands responds with Stam. The Dutch ogre’s right-hander smashes the crossbar and smashes into the Dutch wall behind Toldo.
It’s Totti’s turn, and here the director wins the Oscar. The pupone played a European relay with Del Piero. He started on the bench and after Zambrotta’s ejection he missed the chance to get into the game. Zoff only sends him in with 7 minutes left. This is your chance to put your face on the cover. The blue resistance seems to have the upper hand and it’s up to him to give the coup de grace. Only Van Der Sar is in the crosshairs. Di Biagio in midfield embraced his teammates puts everyone on the lookout: “He said je does er spoon”. Maldini in a panic tries to call Francis. He in his head was reliwing eternal glory. “For a moment I thought I’d change my mind but then I couldn’t look bad with my teammates after I promised to do it all week.” Totti’s spoon at Van Der Sar becomes the symbol of the Italian European, the victory of art over the system, the victory of resistance over the Company of the Indies. Pizzul can’t find the words. Totti’s gesture does not find definition, only after the game will be sold to the world as “er spoon”. What happens next doesn’t remind anyone. Kluivert scores, Maldini misses, Toldo also takes Bosvelt’s penalty and Italy flies into the final.