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Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK

Men behaving and losing badly

By John May
BBC Sport Online

Mention Italy and Spain to wine lovers and names like Chianti, Barolo and Rioja slip off the tongue.

But a few cases of sour grapes are helping those countries produce a vintage bitter whine.

Yes, Italy and Spain have refused to leave the World Cup party quietly.

Like a couple of guests who have been slung out for over-enthusiasm round the sangria bowl, Italy and Spain have decided to hang around in the street outside and hurl insults at the hosts.

" It seemed like they got around a table and decided in advance to throw us out "
Italian government spokesman

It might have been all right had they left it there.

But when exit from the World Cup is not so much the loss of a football match as casting aspersions on a nation's manhood, the whole country takes the hump.

Italy and Spain have elevated the art of losing badly to a new level and in the process shown an ability to throw their toys out of the pram that would have shamed an infant Steve Backley.

Those histrionics are underwritten by a nodding and winking campaign that they have been victims of a conspiracy to keep co-hosts South Korea in the competition.

Fifa's admission that refereeing has been poor only serves as fuel to stoke the theories.

You might expect players, coaches and supporters to cry 'foul', but the whining has gone right to the top.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar left a conference of European heads of state to hint darkly: "There were a few other things that had an influence, but we can leave that for another news conference."

Nobody delights more in conspiracies than the Italians, and the goverment view is: "It seemed like they got around a table and decided in advance to throw us out."

Given the Italian government's stance, Perugia's decision to sack Korea's winning goalscorer Ahn Jung-hwan would have been cheered up and down Italy.

As an act of vengeance, it ranked only slightly below leaving a horse's head on Ahn's pillow.

South Korean coach Guus Hiddink's advice that Italy and Spain should look to their own shortcomings was smugly given from the moral high ground of the victor's rostrum.

From his lofty perch, Hiddink was able to dismiss claims from Italy and Spain that the refereeing had been 'suspicious.'

Contrast the bleatings of Italy and Spain to the magnanimous, dignified way in which England and Senegal both took their World cup defeats.

England were realistic enough to accept they fell on the sword of their own shortcomings, while Senegal coach Bruno Metsu openly said: "We came up against a great Turkish team."

Of course, there are those who say that the only people who are gracious in defeat are those who get plenty of practice at it.

But when it comes to producing a whine from sour grapes for sad occasions, Italy have a pedigree.

After all, they do make a wine called Lachrima Christi - the Tears of Jesus.


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