The World Cup is ominously close! So that you aren't caught offside (they have that in soccer, right?), we're previewing all the participants, bringing you Four Things You Don't Know About Them. If you have a tidbit, send it along to tips@Deadspin.com. Today: Italy!
And for World Cup previews that are even better than ours, check out That's On Point, who helped us with these as well.
• 1. They Make The Trains Run On Time. Former dictator Benito Mussolini, in addition to being a fascist monster, is known for perhaps the greatest pregame speech next to Knute Rockne's "The Gipper." Il Duce told his troops prior to the 1938 Cup Final in Paris against Hungary, "Win or Die." (This followed his antics at the 1934 Cup in Italy were he manipulated the refs and essentially handed Italy the title.) His memory lives on in Lazio player Paulo "Titus Pollo" di Canio, who has a tattoo "DVX," which is Latin for Duce.
• 2. Their Hooligans Take A Back Seat To No One. Italian hardcore supporters, or Ultras, are well known for thuggery. In a recent UEFA Cup match between England's Middlesborough and AS Roma, three 'Boro fans were stabbed. Then there is the infamous flare incident from last year's Champions League AC Milan/Internazionale match (Italian fans threw flares onto the field). Or how about the anti-semitic and Nazi imagery at games? Wee!
• 3. Delightful Clown-Like Actors Need Not Apply. Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni offered to be the team's mascot — he is, after all, the self proclaimed Italian "Donald Duck" — but was refused, presumably after officials watched his version of Pinocchio.
• 4. They Bend It Like Totti. Francesco Totti is Italy's David Beckham; having captured the imagination of Italian futbol fans like you wouldn't believe. He's currently nursing a broken ankle, yet each Sunday on the European soccer wire, there are at least five or six shots of Totti in street clothes watching his squad, AS Roma, play. And when they played Lazio in the infamous Rome Derby, the television showed more Totti than the game.