Italy has gone America's Cup mad, says Charles Barkla, New Zealand's trade commissioner in the fashion mecca of Milan.

Italy has gone America’s Cup mad, says Charles Barkla, New Zealand’s trade commissioner in the fashion mecca of Milan.

Soccer-crazy Italians have been up watching every yacht race off Auckland in the Louis Vuitton semifinals and are pumped up to watch Prada take on Team New Zealand. “They are not charging around the streets with flags, but everyone knows now all about the America’s Cup and the interest is enormous,” Mr Barkla said from his home in Milan today.

The Louis Vuitton races have been live on Italian national television and repeated in prime time and on other channels. “Last week you could not get away get away from it. There have been parties everywhere throughout the country. “Millions would have seen the exciting final race on TV this morning. People are celebrating across Italy … The interest has been incredible.” Figures in Italian newspapers today said that two million television sets were on during coverage of the yachting in New Zealand, which translated into about five million people watching it live at 4am local time.

Italy’s biggest selling daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera ran a double page spread about the stunning Prada victory over AmericaOne. “Now New Zealand believes in Black Magic” read one of the paper’s headlines. It said the America’s Cup was becoming a video game and Auckland had adopted “made in Italy” signs. The paper spoke about the America’s Cup fever in Parnell Road, described as the most trendy street in Auckland. Italians say they can hardly a remember a day when they have been gripped by so much national pride from a minority sport. Many Italians plan to decamp to New Zealand in the next few weeks for the finals starting on February 19 (New Zealand time). Italian media today gave heavy coverage to both the yachting and Italy’s 34-20 rugby win over Scotland.

Former All Black prop Brad Johnstone, who took over as Italian coach five weeks ago, yesterday steered his charges to the historic win over the Five Nations champions in Rome. Mr Barkla said there was such massive attention on New Zealand that a New Zealand America’s Cup centre would be set up in downtown Milan to promote Tradenz and New Zealand.

He would promote the venture in the days leading up to the finals, sure to gain prominence in the local media. More than 170 Italian journalists in Auckland have been sending news back to Italy on the Louis Vuitton series ; their media outlets have been in voluble ecstasy this weekend. The America’s Cup story is said to have overtaken soccer on the sporting agenda.

Widescreen televisions have been put up in piazzas in Naples, Rome and Milan to enable big crowds to watch Luna Rossa sailing to victory.