As Italy are jetting home from Brazil following their FIFA World Cup 2014 exit, FFT's Italian-Malaysian Joe Pagnelli reflects on the pain that only Italian-Malaysians will understand...
You cramp your way into a semi-coloured seat by a table more unstable than Britney Spears. You sit and wait in the sweltering humid heat – you would think you were in Brazil, amongst the fun and the furore. You raise your arm to signal the waiter to come.
"Satu Maggi mee goreng, dan satu teh ais."
Confidently, you sit back and wait. The propped screen showing the World Cup games just meters from you, with a crowd of loud chaotic Malaysians trapping you. Tonight, they will talk, celebrate and make friendly wagers among themselves. You're excited and anticipating the ungodly feast of relentless stomach cramps and great regret. It is all worth it.
It has been 24 minutes and your hunger begins to eat you up. As if you need to be aggravated further, a man of morbid obesity sits before you and blocks your view of the game with his clunky McArms and McHead.
Shisha coals burn up beside you, as sweat slowly drowns you. “Why did I wear a shirt?”
The food hasn't come. “Where is my food?”
You become anxious, you become angry, you are hungry and you are flustered. You look around, with a look of perverse anger telling the waiters, "Where the heck is my food?" but you say not a word. You do not want to cause a scene.
Finally, the waiter that had been delivering food to all neighbouring tables but yours finally decided to make his way to your wobbly somewhat-of-a-table. He brings with him a plate of mee goreng and a glass of teh o’ ais.
This is the tragic metaphor an Italian-Malaysian has just experienced in the World Cup. There was an eerie whim of confidence and hope prior and the splendid beginning – much like in the moments when you thought you were minutes away from your favourite unhealthy street food – you believed this was to be a great tournament.
In friendlies leading to the much-anticipated World Cup in Brazil, Italy had failed to impress. This was no surprise – Italy impress in friendlies as frequently as the KTM is on time.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, whose best attribute was likely to be his sense of villainous style, crouching on the side-lines seemingly on the outlook for his opponents he was about to vanquish, selected a versatile 23 for the scalding heat of Brazil. He opted for an adaptable side rather than one of great flair – namely bringing incredibly-average-but-full-of-running Marco Parolo over injury-ridden Giuseppe Rossi.
Game One against England went according to plan. I sat in my living room with my Italian father. Eyes shut while the Inno di Mameli sang to us, fist firmly clenched desperately close to our hearts. Marchisio scored, Pirlo was ingenious and Balotelli sent us to Dante's Paradiso – or Heaven. Meanwhile. Costa Rica had just surprised Uruguay with a 3-1 battering, unrelenting with their gazelle-like counter attacking football, and doubt about the ease of passage Italy would have against the supposed minnows were as prevalent as ever.
Gli Azzurri needed only a draw, or preferably a victory against then considered lowly Costa Rica. It was infinitely possible, but then Bryan Ruiz popped up and Italy were once again faced with elimination in the group stages in a consecutive World Cup.
Surely, I thought to myself, Italy will not crash out. This is the kind of year Italy win the thing. My dad did not agree, but I decided to silence him with factoids about Italy's 1982 World Cup winning side failing to win any group games before stealing the thing from Brazil's grasp.
I tried to bubble-wrap myself with facts and truths, that this Italy side would come out tripping but flourish when it mattered most. Turns out, Italy built momentum like a certain political party had for the most part of the year, only to falter at the last step through inconceivable and confusing circumstances.
There is a lot to do, a lot to ponder and a lot to lie helplessly in desolation about after Italy's exit – namely, since Prandelli's tenure, the decimation of Italian catenaccio. Italy had been impregnated by horde of goals since 2012; what was once an impermeable force now leaked like a broken condom.
There was so much wrong with this World Cup. So much wrong with arguably the most entertaining World Cup that made South Africa 2010 play out like a game of Backgammon in comparison.
I cried after Diego Godin inadvertently nodded the ball passed Gigi Buffon with the coup-de-grace. It might have been the scotch and beer my father and I had consumed copiously before, during and after the game but everything felt off. Luis Suarez's bite only served to aggravate my pain, but also served as painkiller to help bypass the true fictitious beliefs I had of this Azzurri side.
A reflection of our bitter neighbours France in 2010, Italy broke apart. At half time, reports of friction between Mario Balotelli and Cesare Prandelli had arisen. After the game, many Italian fans shamed the very nation I love by indignantly venting frustrations at the striker asking him to "go back to Africa" as how he was "not Italian".
It was embarrassing. I was ashamed.
The defenders looked like dogs on roller-blades, which while hilarious, is largely ineffective for professional footballers. Our strikers offered little other than the knowledge they actually were in fact there, existing.
I have always been a big fan of Prandelli and how he rebooted the side after 2010 and brought Italy to the Euro 2012 final. However, he has since been as indecisive with his formations, as if swiping from one to another like an Instagram filter, never selecting the one.
It is unfair to pin the blame on Prandelli, or any player for this failure in the World Cup. Italy were a couple refereeing decisions away from facing Greece in the next round, and who knows what would have happened then. It is unfair that Italy crashed out with Marchisio's dubious sending off and Suarez's cannibalistic enterprise. It is unfair that I will not be allowed to see my Azzurri play another World Cup game for possibly four years while Greece still compete courtesy of a penalty that never was.
In 2006, Italy defeated Australia on a bogus penalty given in the final minute. And in my mad celebrations that summer evening, I would not even mutter the word fairness. I suppose it would not be fair to do so now.
Italy failed in the World Cup. It is unimportant where the blame lies as it all went wrong – from the coach, to the president, to the players, to the racism, to the name-calling, to Suarez, to Bryan Ruiz, to the weather, to the corruption, to the goddamned Maggi mee goreng that never came.