IN 1 9 9 0 I T A L Y H O S T E D their first World Cup since 1938, then underthe shadow of Mussolini and the Fascist statues around the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Italia 90 would be different, a chance to cut a fine figure and, more importantly to Italian football fans, win a third World Cup (Mondiale), thus going ahead of Brazil. Expectations were high, Italian club teams had just won all the European trophies, they had in Roberto Baggio – whose recent sale by Fiorentina to Juventus for $20m had prompted riots in the streets of Florence – the new Paolo Rossi, their hero of 1982, and they were playing at home. Things started well – to a superstitious Italian maybe too well – as Italy, thanks ironically to their new Sicilian striker Toto Schillaci, arrived unproblematically at a 1-0 lead in their semi-final against an inferior Argentina. Then Argentina scored and the home team choked, losing eventually 4-3 on penalties, ensuring Germany an improbable number of tifosi (fans) for the Final. Like the Victorian gentleman who shouted out to Othello before the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy that Iago was not to be trusted, this disaster wasn’t part of the script. Italy weren’t supposed to end their World Cup campaign slugging it out in a lacklustre, also-rans, third-place play-off in Bari (albeit in a sumptuous, new Renzo Piano-designed San Nicola stadium) against an England team bereft of Gazza, tears and flair; they were destined for the reinvigorated Stadio Olimpico. It was not for this that Italy had designed, redesigned and renovated twelve stadiums, held a national poll to decide the official mascot’s name (‘Ciao’ beating off the challenge of ‘Dribbly’ and ‘Bimbo’) and commissioned its film-makers to direct short films about their home towns and cities. As the despairing headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport declared the day after the calamitous defeat in the semis: ‘Italia Noooo’.