We all know that in the Belpaese, football is a fundamental part of everyday life, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. There is, however a segment of the Italian population that remains entirely untouched by this national disease. First, there are the wives and children of those guys who spend all their time at the stadium. Traumatized by their fathers soccer-induced Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde transformation each Sunday, they choose to practice a different sport. Then, there are the artists and intellectuals who dont want to mix with the mass of desperate fans who suffer profound moral dilemmas over eleven guys in shorts running after a ball. But every four years, the miracle repeats itself. The moment of the World Cup arrives and the Nazionale Azzurra runs out onto the field, and even those desaparecidos who claim to be allergic to football, find themselves a spot on the crowded sofa to watch the match. If the neigh-bourhood bar hangs up a white sheet on which to project the game, these impromptu fans flock there for drinks and sudden soccer thrills. Oth-erwise, they go see the match in the towns main square, ready to use the central fountain as a swimming pool should the Blue team lasso an unexpected victory. The desaparicidos try and keep themselves well-hidden, or heavily masked with shirts, wigs and hats (all blue, of course) in hopes of not being recognized. Still, they are there. And their passion for the game is complete. Then there are the professionisti, true professional fans, like my friend Alessandro, the person with whom Ive had the privilege of sharing the last few World Cup matches. Il Professionista watches every single World Cup match. If theres a game on while hes at work, he videotapes it. Its just too easy to save ones enthusiasm for Italy, the conventional Brazilian team or Argentina. Il Professionista even gets excited about the unwatchable 0-0 match between Liechtenstein and the Far Oer Islands, broadcast at two in the morning. Friends are allowed to watch the game with himbut no more than two at a time and only those rigorously chosen. He leaves the telephone off the hook, has a beer during the first half, and another in the second. He watches football with an expert eye and doesnt root for anyone in particular. A master of objectivity, il Professionista professes loyalty to the motto may the best man win. Usually that means Brazil. Il Professionista has been a fan of his favourite team (in this case the Fiorentina) since before he was born.The third group is made up of the tifosi, people who normally watch football throughout the year. When the World Cup comes to town, they become virtually possessed by the Blue Devil and enter into a catatonic state for the entire Italian adventure. They dress their children in Tottis jersey and take two days off work when Italy plays. They send their wives to the seaside, happy for once to pay for their mother-in-laws hotel stay. I tifosi are those who love to watch the game in the company of anywhere from 20 to 200 people. They are prone to organiz-ing numerous dinner parties in honour of the Blue teamusually at other peoples houses. Then they show up with cases of beer, new years eve horns and a giant flag to hang from the windowsill. I tifosi park their scooters at their hosts door, ready to zip out into the celebratory traffic frenzy that occurs in event of a win. This type of World Cup junkie is probably the most numerous of the four. Another interesting category of soccer fans is gli sportivi. They possess a profound knowledge of football (so they say) and delight in maintaining a level of cool detachment towards the game. During animated football arguments at a bar, they always keep to the sidelines. You can recognize them by their slightly raised eyebrows. Gli sportivi are generally in total disagreement with all of the coaches decisions. Always ready to praise the heroic acts of the Italian heroes in case of victory, they are equally eager to offend those spoiled rich fools if the Nazi-onale team loses. Defeat will often cause a sportivo to smile. He knew it all along. And with an air of superiority, hell tell you so: I knew things would end up this way. It was clear from the very beginning. Its impossible to win with a team like this one. Then hell continue by listing all the details of his personal training plan which undoubtedly would have brought the Blue team to World Cup triumph and victory. In addition to these four categories, there are certainly other exceptions and special cases. Take, for example, my friend Marcellino, otherwise known as Sintesis for his incredible capacity to take at least 45 minutes to tell you that tomorrow it might rain. He is beyond doubt the most ignorant person I know regarding soccer. Id bet money that he couldnt even guess how many players make up a team. But Marcello is a real professional when it comes to the very Italian art of courting women, so during the World Cup youll find him dressed like Ronaldinho at the Brasilian fan-club party, dancing the Samba at the Cascine. Or when the USA plays, youll find him in front of the maxi screen in Piazzale Michelangelo wrapped in an American flag, squeezed between two girls from California.In the end, this too, is passion. And that, after all, is what the World Cup is all about.