Maybe football really does come down to culture and tradition. France, Germany, Spain and now Italy all knocked down their opposing representatives from other continents, honouring reputations that go back almost a century. Of these European platoons, though, it was undoubtedly the Azzurre who were faced with the toughest task.
Ante Milicic's Australia boasted a team of battle-hardened veterans, including world-class striker Sam Kerr, and were among the favourites to reach the tournament's final stages. Of the 23 girls in blue, none had ever played in a World Cup, and they ply their trade in a league that two years ago even Sky Sport Italia wouldn't broadcast.
The difference showed. Watch the highlights and you'll only see Barbara Bonansea's narrowly disallowed goal for Italy, followed by an Australian penalty kicked in on a rebound, leading you to think the Azzurre were simply unlucky. In fact, they were being outplayed almost everywhere on the pitch.
The Matildas passed a lot more, and more accurately, while the Azzurre had poor coordination between departments, too often leaving chasms between the lines which their opponents could exploit. As a result, the game in the first half was largely controlled by the Australians: when they had the ball, they analysed, constructed and then pushed forward with method.
Our girls needed a stroke of luck, and this came to pass in the second half. Clare Polkinghorne did an awful job controlling the ball in her defensive third, and Bonansea leapt on it with the hunger and the speed of a prowling velociraptor.
While the chance was a windfall, credit must be given to the Juventus striker for capitalising on it beautifully. She dashed into the box, dribbled and finished, effectively pulling off the cavalry charge, the sword duel and the sniper-shot all by herself.
As is often the case in sports, once tensions rose, order dissolved and plans turned into chaos. The game became less precise, with the attacking efforts of the Italians repeatedly ruined by the offside trap (an ingenuity they clearly need to work on), and the Australians losing some of their composure.
The girls from down under were still, for the most part, the more organised team, but they couldn't do anything with their advantage because the Italians spent the entire second half doing what Italians do best: they held the line.
The defence was the only department in which the Italians conspicuously outdid the Australians, and it's a shame that early foul in the box will taint Sara Gama's otherwise monumental performance. A defensive slip cost the Australians a goal, but no such chinks were to be found in the Azzurri armour.
The decisive performance of the defence was a matter of old-fashioned Italian tradition, but when Bonansea shuffled backwards on a long cross and headed the ball in through a forest of limbs, that was pure spirit, which is timeless. Maybe the Australians did not deserve to lose for the technique they displayed, but I challenge anyone to tell me Italy did not deserve to win for the heart they showed.
With a goal at the 95' after a micro-epic of order and decay, of passing and thinking, of muscle and curses, we were all reminded why we were watching. Because even when sport serves to make us a better and more equal society, which it has done since forever, it is still sport before all else, and this is what the Azzurre presented as a gift to anyone who cared to watch: an afternoon of true, beautiful, imperishable Italian football.
It was like 2006 all over again, but instead of Francesco Totti converting a contentious penalty, it was Bonansea with a goal nobody could complain about. They both celebrated the 95th-minute winner by sucking their thumbs.
Speaking of which, former Milan Coach Carolina Morace noted during the match that the Australian football federation has placed an informal veto on its players to keep them from moving to Italy. The reason, apparently, is that Italian women's football is just not good enough, and their players would be wasted among such low-level competition. So call this game our welcome to Calcio.