faking it: 2014 world cup edition

Florence for Free is about to take on another F you might’ve never thought possible from a couple of American art historians: FOOTBALL!

Now, we’re assuming you’ve made it to our World Cup guide because you’re not particularly well versed in anything Italian soccer. It’s ok, we wouldn’t be our first choice either to explain the game’s finer points. Thankfully, we won’t even attempt to do that. Instead, we’re outlining the basics for how to make the most of the sporting hooplah set to take over Florence (and the rest of the world) without sounding like a soccer manual. Consider us the Cliff Notes you cram the night before a big test to help you fake your way through it.

Simply follow these 5 easy steps to feigning your interest in the sport. Just remember that the pitch is the playing field, and a game is a match. While we’re at it, soccer here is only known as football, so throw your pigskins out the window. Ok, time to lace up your proverbial boots (a.k.a. cleats). Let’s get kickin’!


1. Master the World Cup basics.

Every four years, 32 teams qualify to compete for greatness on football’s international main stage, known as the World Cup. This year, the tournament will run from June 12 until July 13.

The Wold Cup starts off with group play. Countries are divided into eight groups of four, where they play each team in their group once. For each win, a team earns three points. A tie earns one point for each team, and a loss earns no point. So, at the end of group play, the two teams with the most points in each group will move on to the knockout rounds.

That makes for 16 teams in the knockout rounds, with the best team in one group squaring off against the second best team of another group. Every game will result in an elimination, with two 15-minute overtime periods added to the 90-minute play in the event of a tie at the end of regulation. If it is still a tie after extra time, five players from each team will go head-to-head in a shootout to determine the match’s winner. Eventually, there will be only two teams left to compete for the ultimate prize.

So far, so good! Now, let’s look at who to cheer for.

Illustration of Mario Balotelli via ESPN/Mashable

Illustration of Mario Balotelli via ESPN/Mashable

2. Root for the home team in English and Italian.

CHEER FOR ITALY, DUH! But don’t state that you’re for Italia; better to say that you’re a diehard supporter of gli Azzurri. While blue isn’t part of the country’s tricolor, it’s believed that the team’s particular shade of blue was adopted from the House of Savoy, responsible for the unification of Italy in 1861. Today, the color is also the nickname for Italy’s national team.

Italy won the World Cup in 2006 and is never truly counted out as a contender for top honors. While critics might be heavily favoring the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Spain this year, you should feel confident that the calciatori you’re rooting for will put up a good fight (fun fact: only Brazil and Germany have played in more World Cup finals than Italy). Just, uh, don’t look up Italy’s most recent World Cup performance.

…You looked it up, didn’t you? Finishing dead last in your group with no wins after taking the whole thing four years earlier definitely stings. But such a rocky start will only amount to an even more impressive takedown when they claim the title again this year! A girl can dream, right?

If you’re not really into sports, there are still other reasons to be a proud Azzurri supporter. For one, everyone rocks luscious locks, from the team manager down to the goalie. Plus, Puma never disappoints with their killer kits (a.k.a. unis).

Italian Cheers

Ok, it’s good to know some history, but a true faking-it fan must master the cheers. First, you should practice singing the Italian national anthem with zeal and fervor. Known as Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians), this resounding tune packs a mighty punch with multiple mentions of death, slaves and cohorts. To start, study the following video for lyrics in English and Italian.

Soon, you’ll be demanding “Dov’è la Vittoria?!?!” like a pro. If you get REALLY good, you can work your way up to chanting the entire 2014 roster to the music:

The national anthem will get you through the opening ceremonies, but what about during the match? The Wire warns us that if everyone around you starts bouncing off the walls, they did not just hop on a batch of pogo sticks. They’re simply partaking in one of Italy’s most popular cheers, chi non salta. We’ll let them explain:

“Chi non salta [opponent’s name] é, é,” the crowd chants, which basically translates to “[Opponent] do not jump.” If you’re a fan of the other team, don’t jump, the Italian fans say as they jump and cheer. So when Italy plays Costa Rica on June 20th, you may hear the crowd chant “Chi non salta Costaricani é, é,” while Italians jump up and down exuberantly. 

Here’s a small taste of what’s to come:

Of course, the Italians will not be limited to this one cheer, but we’ll let you learn the more colorful ones while out in the crowds. When all else fails, look up, shake your hands at the sky, throw in an aptly timed Momma mia! or O Dio! and order another round.

Azzurri via Italoamericano.com

Azzurri via Italoamericano.com

3. Adopt an Italian all-star as your spirit animal.

Wearing a blue shirt will get you into the bar, but you’re going to have to drop some big names to sound like you actually know what’s going on. Here’s a quick-guide to some of Italy’s standout personalities (and, as is arguably classic Italian fashion, some are known for their flair and antics as much as their skills).

  • Cesare Prandelli – The team’s manager has been credited for turning his crew around since their embarrassing showing in the 2010 tournament. Before taking his current position,  he was the long-time manager of Fiorentina, so extra cheer points for you, Prandelli! If you’re likely to lead your friends out of sketchy situations, you might be a Prandelli.
  • Mario Balotelli (9) – Striker extraordinaire, this guy’s got a boot to watch. I mean, you don’t earn a name like Super Mario for nothing. He’s also known to be a bit…how should we say…unpredictable? on and off the pitch. If explosive dynamism sounds like your style, then here’s hoping Mario is focused and on fire when the whistle blows.
  • Gianluigi Buffon (1) – Gigi’s in goal again for Italy, which is a great thing, as he’s widely considered one of the best keepers  of all time. Are you consistently reliable with catlike reflexes? Gigi may be your World Cup match.
  • Daniele de Rossi (16) – An experienced player, Daniele is also no stranger to multi-game bans. Whether he’s throwing bows or breaching ethics codes, Daniele is out to prove he’s “not a thug.” Either way, he should keep things interesting midfield. If you prefer things rough around the edges, then you might be pulling for Rossi.
  • Andrea Pirlo (21) – Pirlo is a revered veteran who seems to pull the strings when he’s on the pitch. He’s earned nicknames like l’architetto and il professore for his ability to set up plays and visualize what the Azzurri should be doing on the field. If you’re a brainiac among the masses, you can most likely to relate to Pirlo’s mastery of the pitch.

Not finding a calciatore to complement your own disposition? You can choose another from the team’s full roster here.

Italian football fans via Indian Football Network

Italian football fans via Indian Football Network

4. Consider the World Cup schedule your new social calendar.

So, are you still apprehensive that crowding around a TV with a bunch of intense strangers could actually be fun? Even if you’re not interested in watching the games, you should still know when Italy is scheduled to play, because – let’s face it – everyone else will be tuned into the big event. If you at least know the Italy game is scheduled to air at midnight in Florence, you’ll be less scared when you hear entire neighborhoods erupting in screams at 2 a.m. Or maybe you’ll maximize time during evening games for tourist activities or shopping in spaces that are usually crowded with folks. Of course, our advice is to join in on the extreme fandom. The enthusiasm is contagious!

As we discussed at the top, Italy will have to face three teams in the opening round, and Italy’s group, Group D, is shaping up to be particularly tough. In fact, Italy’s very first match is against the formidable England, led by a seasoned Wayne Rooney. Historically, the teams are pretty evenly stacked, with England winning 8 matches, Italy winning 9 and 7 draws between them.  The game will air on Sunday, June 15th at midnight (played locally in Brazil on Saturday, June 14th at 6 p.m.).

The next two games will be played Friday, June 20th at 6 p.m. against Costa Rica and Tuesday, June 24th at 6 p.m. against Uruguay. If Italy makes it to the knockout rounds, they will play again on either June 28th or 29th, depending on their rank at the end of group play.

Watching the 2010 Wold Cup on the Arno Beach by Lindsay_NYC

Watching the 2010 Wold Cup on the Arno Beach by Lindsay_NYC

5. Watch with the rest of the world.

If you do decide to become a part of the mouth-gaping madness, your hardest decision might very well come down to your choice of barstool (if you’re lucky – many places will be SRO and you’ll be SOL.). Most bars with a TV will be airing the game, but some are better known than others for attracting football crowds. Below are some of our own and our friends’ favorites for catching the action in city center.

If a crowded bar isn’t your thing, have no fear! A handful of Florence’s outdoor spaces will be transformed into outdoor viewing theaters just for the World Cup. Here’s where to catch the action under the stars (list courtesy of The Florentine):

  • Easy Living (Near Piazza Poggi on the Arno beach)
  • Le Murate Literary Cafe, (Piazza della Murate)
  • Giardino dell’Orticoltura, (Via Vittorio Emanuele II)
  • Artemio Franchi Stadium (Viale Manfredo Fanti, 4)
  • Circolo Aurora (Piazza Tasso)
  • Fiorino sull’Arno (Lungarno Percori Geraldi)
  • Plaz (Via Pietrapiana 36)
  • Piazza Demidoff (Via dei Renai 17r)
  • Parco dell’Anconella (Via di Villamagna 39d)
  • OFF Bar (Fortezza da Basso gardens)

So, are you feeling like you could slip into a group of mondiali fans and remain unsuspected? With these basics, you should be able to fake your way at least through the opening rounds of play. And here’s hoping our favorite calciatori take it all the way. Vivo Azzurro!



  1. I understand everything very clearly now. Or not.

  2. Cassidy S · · Reply

    I was in Rome last year when Italia lost the world cup. It was very interesting… the entire country was in mourning the next day and nobody talked about it.

  3. emily c. · · Reply

    OK, ladies, i read the piece twice, am paying attention to the world cup google doodles, and have either seen some of the play on the big screen in the giardino d’orticoltural across the street from we live or have at least heard the shouts and groans rising up through the windows of our apartment. i was feeling pretty confident about “faking it”. here’s a warning you failed to make a note of – this weekend in florence, unless you are sure about the people you are talking with, don’t say ” vai azzurro!” because this weekend is calcio storico, and folks may think that you mean the azzurri who are playing against the bianchi. this weekend it’s better to say “forza italia”. i put my foot in it a couple times, realized i was not getting a positive response, asked a florentine about it, and then had to retrace my steps and say i was sorry! oh well, luckily, my apologies elicited smiles and good-natured laughter.

    1. oh Madonna!! Thanks for letting us know emily, that’s an excellent point. We will have to add a disclaimer to our cheer section. Sorry we led you astray! Let us know how the weekend goes…

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