You wouldn’t know it by all the closed storefronts, but Italy is abuzz this Sunday in anticipation of the Euro 2012 final against Spain.
The main tourist attractions (Coliseum, Vatican, etc…) are still packed with camera-equipped hordes who think tiki-taka is some nice Pacific Island getaway, but a stroll down one of Rome’s many side streets reveals a city cautiously optimistic about its chances against the Spanish giants.
The street bars are decked out with small shows of patriotism along with waving tricolores, though the owners hope their properties survive the inevitable rioting that will accompany the result of the match.
The World Cup win in 2006 sent throngs into the streets, many to celebrate peacefully, but more than few with Molotov cocktails.
More recent demonstrations have been prompted by the Italian government's drive for austerity, which is a leading cause of civil unrest for students and seniors alike.
Many fans have had to cut back because of the country’s economic woes, leading to under-representation in Kiev, but a strengthening of support in the streets of Rome itself.
The national team’s improbable run from February's humiliating loss to the U.S. to Euro 2012 finalist has unified the country behind the Azzurri and has its stars believing they can keep the momentum rolling.
La Gazzetta dello Sport reported the ever-quotable Mario Balotelli hopes to score four goals in the final while Gianluigi Buffon compared the spirit in the locker room to that in Berlin during the World Cup six years ago.
Nevertheless, I noticed an abundance of blue button-downs and dresses exiting from Rome’s many churches Sunday morning.
Despite drawing with La Roja in the group stage this year, Italy has only managed one win in eight matches against Spain since 1994.
Cesare Prandelli’s men got that win less than a year ago, however, and are counting on Balotelli’s Michelangelesque form and Andrea Pirlo’s Raphaelite touch to put them atop the podium.
Italy’s dismemberment of Germany has shown that, while they remain underdogs to the defending European and World Champions, the slightest mistake in Spain’s back line might be all that is needed for victory.
The German fans in Rome bore the defeat on Thursday with dignity, but were nonetheless subjected to schadenfreude-craving Italian interviewers, in addition to blaring Vespa horns.
The Spanish contingent is less visible than the German one was, though a victory might cause a mini-Barcelona to spring up around the Spanish Steps.
There are several outdoor viewings planned around the city, but the largest congregation will be huddling around cheap wine and bread in the Circus Maximus—an ancient Roman chariot stadium that accommodated 150,000 people 2,000 years ago.
I am foregoing that option in order to watch the game in the more intimate, but just as lively Tam O’Shanter pub located in the northern neighborhood of Prati.
The atmosphere will be decidedly pro-Italian and opposing fans risk, as witnessed during the England-Italy match, finding themselves in the path of wayward pint glasses.
More to come from the night’s adventures.