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   June 16, 2002 | 1345 IST


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Act Now! Treat those Scratches

Italy to walk alone against Red Devils

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Simon Evans

Italy's supporters have behaved impeccably so far at the World Cup, showing unmatched understanding of the traditions and customs of the host nations.

So they should -- after all those decked in the famous azure shirts at the games in Sapporo, Ibaraki and Oita have in fact been Japanese.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side enjoyed the backing of thousands of young Japanese fans in their three group games, with the local 'converts' compensating for the lack of fans from Italy.

Bad news for the scores of pizza and pasta restaurants in World Cup venues who were naively banking on thousands of hungry Italians flocking to their towns.

Yet at least the local support has ensured a balanced atmosphere in Italy's games where the noise of Ecuador, Croatia and Mexico's fans was countered by the chanting of Italy's youthful Japanese 'substitute supporters'.

But all that is about to change.

On Tuesday, the Italians face the other host nation, South Korea, in a second round tie, and this time the stadium will be packed by partisan home supporters -- the 'Red Devils'.

No Koreans will be wearing Francesco Totti replica shirts.

Most teams here would at least be able to count on their own supporters forming a vocal minority of the crowd, providing a place where players can run to celebrate their goals.


After all there are thousands of fans from England and Ireland, Brazil and Mexico at the Cup but despite the huge interest in the event back in Italy, almost no Italians have bothered to make the trip to South Korea and Japan.

As goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said, Italian fans would rather experience the World Cup from the comfort of home.

"Italians prefer to go down to the piazza and party there, they feel more involved that way, rather than travelling and trying to change the colour of a (foreign) city," said Buffon.

"That is what I did myself when I was a lad," added the Italy keeper.

While there is no shortage of Italian interest in the World Cup -- a third of the country has tuned in to Italy's games on television and piazzas across the country have been filled by fans watching giant screen broadcasts -- there is no tradition of travelling support for the national side.

Italian club teams enjoy the backing of highly organised supporters clubs and the more hardcore 'ultras', but there are no such organisations for the 'Azzurri'.

The result is that the Italians will be left to fend for themselves in what should be a feverous atmosphere in Taejon on Tuesday.

Buffon says he expects the atmosphere to be similar to when he played in European games in Istanbul against Galatasaray, where the slogan 'Welcome to Hell' epitomises the hostility of the local support.

But the Italy keeper is not worried by the prospect of facing the mass-ranks of red-shirted home supporters.

"It might actually fire us up a bit more. But we certainly will need to get off to a good start," said Buffon.

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