Fabio Grosso, whose penalty box “dive” may have robbed the Socceroos of a quarter-final place at the 2006 World Cup, was so tired that the wind must have blown him over.
That’s the comic explanation from Alessandro Del Piero, who is being touted as the saviour of Australian football’s A-League today but six years ago was a member of the Italian team that broke Australian hearts in Germany.
Sydney FC’s new signing had journalists chuckling with his tongue-in-cheek recollection of the contentious last-minute penalty when Grosso fell after a challenge from Australia defender Lucas Neill.
With extra time looming and Italy down to 10 men, it was a watershed moment for the team that went on to lift the World Cup.
Francesco Totti blasted the spot kick past Mark Schwarzer for a 1-0 win thanks to what millions saw as a “dive”.
But did Del Piero believe the penalty was warranted?
After much hesitation on Monday he broke into a broad grin and told his first Australian news conference: “Because we were 10 (men), Fabio said to me,’Ally I am very tired’ – in the last minute of the game, injury time – `I’m really tired’. And I am thinking probably that’s why, the wind and something else put Fabio downstairs.”
Del Piero added: “But I think, after jokes, sometimes there are moments where you have everything. And for us 2006 was the perfect World Cup. Everything goes in the right place. Also that match. And that’s why we won.”
He described the 2006 Socceroos as a “great team” full of players with European experience and that match as one of Italy’s toughest.
Dive or no dive, the former Juventus great showed a sense of humour, even in English, which is bound to win over fans during his two-year stint down under.
He revealed how he encouraged his four-year-old son Tobias to make the long trip to live in Australia by promising to show him some kangaroos.
His wife and three young children slept off jet lag as he talked to the media at The Star casino, their temporary home until a more permanent harbourside abode can be found.
Del Piero was applauded into and out of his media conference, something which may well have happened during his glory days of winning Scudettos, Champions Leagues and World Cups.
But it’s doubtful whether he has conducted interviews against a backdrop of poker machines, roulette wheels and blackjack tables, and the televised strains of a country race caller.
Footnote: Former Italian international and AC Milan player Daniele Massaro revived the 2006 penalty debate last year when he said the Italians were “very lucky” to be given the spot kick.