Friday, December 21, 2007

Once more into battle

Well, I don't think the Champions League draw could have come out much more tricky for the remaining Italian trio. Two battles with England and a duel with Real Madrid lie in store. Whoever progresses will have to do it the hard way.

Inter will get their chance to show if they really have European pedigree with a trip to Anfield. All evidence suggests to me that the Nerazzurri should be good enough to beat the Reds. However, they have let us down so often in the past I don't have as much faith as I should. Still, now is the time for Bobby Mancini to show his side are truly top class.

The other side of the city also comes to England. I think the Rossoneri against Arsenal clash is one of the most appetising of the last 16. Wenger's side like to play in a certain way and it is a style which I reckon will suit Milan. I expect a lot of goals from this one and it will be a stern test of the World Club Champions. It would be nice to put the Premiership table-toppers in their place once more.

Finally, Roma take on Lazio's conquerors Real Madrid. It would be sweet if the Giallorossi could pull off another tactical masterstroke like they did against Lyon last year. They will be up against it but, as we know, on their day they can outwit anyone.

Oh, and Fiorentina landed Rosenborg in the UEFA Cup. Getting one of the "drop down" teams seems harsh for finishing second in your group. However, if they had had to pick one it might have been the Norwegians. A strong side, certainly, but not unbeatable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A grand derby in store

With Milan winning the World Club thingy at the weekend and Inter blasting all before them in Serie A what a cracking game we are promised on Sunday afternoon.

In the red-and-black corner the reigning European, World and Intergalactic champions. In the blue-and-black, those "Martian" champions of Italy. The Rossoneri might be a bit jet-lagged but it should still be a classic encounter. It is one which Ancelotti's men have to win if they harbour any hopes of an improbable comeback in Serie A.

Can Milan seriously trouble Mancini's masterful side? It really depends how committed they are to the game. On their day they are as good as anyone but how much is their heart in the fight for the Scudetto? I guess we will find out at the weekend.

Inter had their traditional stroll past Cagliari at the weekend. They were made to work hard in the first half but once they got ahead it was easy going. Elsewhere, Alex Del P impressed with a couple of breakaway goals which showed an old cynic like me that he might still have some life left in him. And Udinese lost which helps boost Fiorentina's chances of getting into the Champions League.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

May the force be with them...

It can't have escaped your notice that something extraordinary is about to happen. I wasn't around in the 1950s but I can only compare it to the astonishing events when the mighty Magyars humbled England on their own patch and forced them to admit they might have something to learn from overseas football.

In some ways, however, this is even more astounding. In their search for a new manager the English FA appear to be heading towards not just a foreigner but, whisper it, an Italian.

I know they have already had a Straniero at the helm but that was a Swede. A northern European - cool, calm and essentially dull (except for the off-the-pitch stuff). Now they have turned to the Dark Side in their possible recruitment of Fabio Capello (pictured).

It must stick in many a craw, surely, to turn to the home of corruption, cheating and defensive football? Is their desperation to win so deep? Clearly it is.

I find it an intriguing prospect. There is no doubt Don Fabio is in Europe's elite managerial bracket - one of the top four or five on the continent. He will certainly have no truck with any primadonna antics. And he might even harness the power of Wayne Rooney as he did Antonio Cassano.

But how has he prepared for all the extra-curricular rubbish? In Spain and Italy he suffered plenty of criticism but it was always based on football. What will he think of having the prying eyes of the tabloids on his wife, children, and anyone he speaks to in the street?

He is the ultimate pragmatist and from a footballing point of view his interest in the job makes a lot of sense. He can only do better than Steve McClaren. He gets to work with a decent group of players who have underachieved. And he gets a lot of money.

Whether it makes such sense from a lifestyle point of view I'm not so sure. He will have to conquer a lot of prejudice if he hopes to be a success. Italian football carries all the 'baggage' mentioned above in many English eyes. A lot of fans don't want him. I know Capello will not care but every time a result doesn't go his way he can expect to have a lot of old stereotypes dragged out.

In many ways, I still don't want to believe the deal will go ahead. At the last minute Capello will pull back his hand and thumb his nose. Or someone will snap their fingers in front of the FA and they will wake from their trance with a look on their face like they had just bitten into an onion. But I just saw Fabio getting off a plane to meet Brian Barwick. And there wasn't a light sabre anywhere in sight.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

And the good news is...

While Inter's multinational mix delivered another hammering at the weekend to march towards the Scudetto there were some things to warm the Italian football fan's heart. Here were a few of my best bits...

1) The first half performance of Amauri in Palermo's win over Fiorentina. His ball through to Miccoli for the opening goal was outstanding. If he is still available for Italy, Donadoni should seriously take a look. He would make a better Toni replacement than Lucarelli. (The downside to all this is that the Viola got beat but at least the team performance was better than of late).

2) Udinese v Parma. Some magic from Antonio Cassano suggested he was back to his crazy best. He got booked, won a penalty and set up a goal. All in day's work. There were also fireworks from Fabio Quagliarella which could be encouraging for the Azzurri too.

3) Nicola Pozzi. With Empoli in dire straits the young striker produced the goods in thrilling style with all four goals in a 4-1 victory. He was strong in the air, quick on the turn and a little bit lucky. A winning combination if ever there was one.

Also, Rolando Bianchi scored for Manchester City. Not bad for just a couple of days of action.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Show us your worth

I was out in Italy at the weekend as Fiorentina were overwhelmed by Inter. I wasn't at the game but I watched the Viola get outclassed from a little bar in Tuscany. The following day, the Nerazzurri fans were busy crowing about just how good they were.

I had a few observations to make. Undoubtedly, they were streets ahead of the boys in purple but, then again, so they should be. They have had their pick of Serie A players for the last couple of years and have reserves that the Artemio Franchi team could only dream of.

Their fans, too, have slipped into an arrogance that ill-befits them. Until such times as this team ALSO wins in Europe it will have a question mark over it. So now is the time for them to deliver a Champions League crown - it has only been 40 years since the last. Or had their fans forgotten?

Elsewhere, Italy landed Romania, Holland and France for the European Championships. I was going to write something about the ludicrous seeding system. However, I think the group makes that comment more eloquently than I could.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Don't forget me

I am off for a few days away from the blog. I thought I would leave my favourite strike of the past few days to remind you of me.

Well, OK, he has got a bit more skill, hair and money than I do. But so what?

Back soon...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now I'm a believer

I must admit that at the outset of this season - and for the opening weeks - I had my doubts about Juve. They rode their luck in a few games and didn't look all that sharp. But after their demolition of Palermo on Sunday night they look like they might be the real deal.

To some degree, I couldn't make up my mind if Juve were so good or the Sicilians were so bad. The Rosanero were a shadow of their old, aggressive, exciting selves. They were tame in the extreme but I think they were outbattled by the Bianconeri. Men like Nocerino (I like to call him Ball Buster as I am sure the football club Nocerina once had a group of Ultras with that name), Nedved, Zanetti and Camoranesi (yes, really) gave them hell.

Are Juve really good enough to take the Scudetto? I am starting to think that if Inter and Roma progress in the Champions League they just might be. The Turin giants only have the league to focus on. Hell, if Udinese can be up there challenging then surely La Vecchia Signora is in with a shout. Next week's trip to Milan will tell us a lot.

In other news, Italy landed Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro for the World Cup 2010 qualifiers. It could have been better (ie Group 2) but it could have been worse. Bulgaria and the Irish will be tough on their home soil but all teams should be beatable in Italy. Got to get Euro 2008 out of the way first...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Imagine the conversation

I have read some daft stories in my time but this one tops the lot. Marcello Lippi turns down Birmingham! "This is not a stunt - it is genuine!" insisted the club co-owner. It gives me great pleasure to produce a transcript of the telephone call.

Brummie City Person: Hello, can I speak to Mr Lippy?

Marcello Lippi: Yes, speaking.

BCP: I understand you are out of work at the moment.

ML: Well, yes, apart from the odd bit of punditry for Sky.

BCP: Are you in the market for a return to management?

ML: Might be, depends who is speaking.

BCP: Oh yes, sorry, I represent an English Premiership club.

ML: Mmmm. Interesting, which one? Manchester United? Chelsea? Liverpool?

BCP: No, not exactly.

ML: Look, Signore, I have got a big cigar waiting for me! What club do you represent?

BCP (whispers): Birmingham City...

ML: What? Speak up.

BCP (mumbles): Birmingham City...

ML: What? Bird in hand shitty?

BCP (shouts): OK! OK! Birmingham City.

The line goes dead.

Who do you fancy?

While Italy strolled past the Faroe Islands there were other countries with bigger games to play on Wednesday night. Most of the big guns who needed to get a result got what they needed. Except, of course, for England. Oh disappointed Scots rejoice!

That Steve McLaren's men had fought back to 2-2 will only make it a more bitter pill. After all the jubilation about the help they got from Israel they couldn't even manage to get a point off a team that had already qualified. No doubt there will be calls for the manager to be hung, drawn and quartered at the very least. All of which will, once again, mask their shortcomings as a team.

So the final line-up for Euro 2008 is as follows. Austria, Switzerland, Greece and probably Holland in pot one. Italy, Croatia, Germany and the Czech Republic in pot two. Romania, Portugal and Sweden in pot three where England should also have been. Presumably France will be promoted into that bracket. That would leave Poland, Spain, Turkey and Russia in the last bucket.

It leaves a wide range of possibilities open. Clearly Holland would be the one to avoid in the top tier, while Turkey, Russia or Poland might be alright from the bottom drawer. However, as we all know, maybe Italy are best getting the toughest draw possible. So bring on the French again!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Call it what you will, but not a robbery...

Well, on a wet and grey Glasgow night, the Azzurri got the job done. It wasn't always pretty and there were a few shaky moments but they showed a lot of guts and "grinta" to record a first ever win on Scottish soil. Shame it had to knock the Tartan Army out as well and put them Frenchies through.

The mission could hardly have started better when Luca Toni (right) poked the ball home in a little over a minute. The big man does not get all the credit he deserves for just how skillful he is. Watch that finish again, he scooped the ball into the net in some style.

Much of the rest of the game revolved around the match officials. Italy had a lengthy spell in control as Scotland recovered from the shock of the early strike. Then Antonio Di Natale had a goal ruled out for offside which should have stood. At 2-0, I reckon, the game would have been pretty much over.

In the second half, however, Scotland struck back. They were certainly pushing hard but the manner in which the goal came saw the officials in the spotlight again. The Scottish press has said Barry Ferguson "may have looked a shade offside" or the goal had a "hint of offside" about it. Let's be frank here, he was a good half-yard offside and the assistant referee had the benefit of a line right across the pitch to help him judge. In exactly the same position as he had ruled out Di Natale's strike, he got it wrong again.

In fairness, I also struggled to see how Chiellini's shoulder barge on Hutton ended up being a free-kick to Italy. In the last minute it led to Panucci's winner. The timing was harsh, but over the game it still made the major error count 2-1 in Scotland's favour. Call it what you will, but not a robbery.

Old Mejuto Gonzalez the referee is notoriously inconsistent. The apparently same incident can lead to a foul, a play-on gesture or a yellow card. That is annoying for players, in fact, annoying for everyone. It was certainly a shame that he was in charge.

I do think the better team went through but I would have rather seen France go out rather than Scotland. I hope now Alex McLeish can build on what his team showed last night. And, above all, I hope they are not in Italy's group again when the World Cup draw is made next week...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fit to burst

I've been around a long time but I don't remember Scotland ever building up to a football game like this for a while. Maybe those play-off games with England or the meeting at Euro '96 but even those I don't recall having this intensity of coverage. Maybe it is because it is against Italy it has made more of an impression on me.

I think the whole country might explode by 4.59pm on Saturday.

That's the great thing football can do, the flip side to all the rubbish that has been associated with it recently. One way or another it will end in tears, joy or maybe in suspense on Saturday evening.

My main hope is that the Azzurri are as up for it as Scotland. If they are, I believe they will get at the very least a draw. If they are not, they might run into trouble. It will be a tense day when I expect to receive about 100 texts at full time. Whatever the outcome, I will try to take it on the chin. I have had plenty of highs and lows following Italia.

But, what the hell. Dai, ragazzi, fammi sognare ancora una volta!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Counting down the days

With just a few days to go, a sample of random thoughts on the upcoming Scotland v Italy clash at Hampden.

1) I have seen a few mentions that Donadoni might go against his traditional 4-3-3 and head for a 4-1-4-1 formation. How does that square with his talk of coming for the win? Is he going to err on the side of grafters (Iaquinta, Perrotta, Ambrosini, etc) over the more lightweight skill men (Camoranesi, Palladino etc)?

2) "Italy have never won on Scottish soil" - while this is true there have only been three meetings - and two of them were draws. And the win came in 1965.

3) Is there any real chance of Ukraine beating France and getting us both through?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Grim reading

I always try to keep a sense of humour about my football but this weekend has tested that to the full. The tragic death of a Lazio fan on his way to watch his team against Inter and the resulting acts of violence have thrown Italian football into darkness once again. I sometimes wonder if it can ever find a way out.

Coverage in a lot of sections of the UK media has been superficial at best. I feel that this Sunday's events ought to be distinguished from the death of Filippo Raciti last season in some significant respects. This was not the kind of pre-meditated horror which that incident turned out to be.

By all accounts it appears a tragic accident prompted the unsavoury scenes in Bergamo and Rome. Yes, the skirmishes at the service station in Arezzo were unacceptable but when word got out that a fan had been shot and killed there were large sections of Ultras up and down the country who felt all games should have been suspended. That appears to have been what Atalanta fans wanted and, ultimately, achieved.

The scenes in Rome also had the air of an improvised response to the shooting by the Carabinieri. It was senseless and stupid - without waiting for any kind of explanation - but it was not entirely incomprehensible. The more hardcore Italian fans have been maintaining an uneasy peace with police and it was always likely to take a lot less than this to set things off. And, of course, there are plenty of imbeciles out there who were only looking for an excuse to go out and cause trouble.

Ultimately, the scenes flashed around the world are easy prey for newspapers and television stations happy to continue the Italian football chaos theme. There have been knee-jerk calls for games to be abandoned but this, in truth, would achieve little. Everything which happened on Sunday was either a long way outside any football stadium or prompted by matters which had precious little to do with the game itself. To hold Calcio responsible for that would, I believe, be unfair.

Unfortunately, a bit like a hopeless criminal who keeps getting caught, the sport's previous convictions are likely to be taken into account.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Win it for Liedholm

I am a bit behind the times but have only just caught up with the news that Milan legend Nils Liedholm has passed away at the age of 85. I am not old enough to have seen him play but I remember him as manager of Roma and his name was always linked with one of the great Rossonero sides.

My favourite story about the Barone - indeed, probably my only story about him - is how his first incomplete pass was greeted at the San Siro. The fans are supposed to have applauded such was their amazement at seeing one of his passes go astray.

So the current team owe it to his memory to go out and thrash Shakthar Donetsk tonight. And Roma owe it to him to go out and perform similar heroics when they face Sporting Lisbon tomorrow. Remember, he will be watching in judgment.

Addio, Barone.

Title remains in the open

Grazie Juve. With a battling draw on Sunday night they stopped Inter setting sail for an easy Scudetto. The Bianconeri might not have the quality and strength in depth of Mancini's men but they surely showed a lot of balls. They were worth their point in the end which kept the Serie A fight wide open.

Sneaking up on the rails are Fiorentina. Nobody really speaks of them as serious title contenders and that is how they like it. But a 1-0 away win to Lazio tells the story of a team increasing in maturity. I think they will struggle with UEFA and league duty but they look set for a great showdown with Inter next month.

Roma lived up to their "bella ma sprecona" (beautiful but wasteful) crown. Two goals up away to Empoli they should have buried them in goals (Vucinic the main culprit). Instead, they left the door open and two wonder goals by Vannucchi and Giovinco levelled the match. I still believe the Giallorossi can overhaul Inter thanks to an easier set of fixtures in the weeks ahead. But they have to kill their opponents off.

Oh, well, back to the Champions League watch tonight.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bobo in Nazionale?

Well, the big man has admitted it. Bobo Vieri would love to squeeze his big Aussie butt back into an Azzurri strip. The question is, should we let him?

After scoring the winner against Napoli last night our Christian soldier said he did have an eye on the Nazionale. Now, my first reaction was simply to laugh. But, on reflection, is it so ridiculous? Is he a worse option than, say, Lucarelli or Quagliarella? Personally, I would like him to have more games under his narrowing belt but could it be worth a gamble? As an understudy to Toni we could do a lot worse.

In other news, the much maligned Mancini and Gilardino were heroes on Wednesday. The Roma man helped to win the derby while Gila was inspirational in the 5-0 hammering of Samp. If he keeps this form up he will get more than 20 Serie A goals for the Rossoneri this year. Who will the fans boo then?

Inter and Juve both won too setting up a mouthwatering Sunday night clash in Turin. The Derby of Italy is back in style. Sit back, pour yourself a good glass of Barbera and watch the sparks fly.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil?

I have been having this strange sensation all weekend - well, since Saturday night anyway. It kind of tingles and is definitely something I have never felt before. I can't exactly put my finger on it but, if I had to, I would say that I was actually feeling a bit SORRY FOR JUVE!

The reason for this unwanted emotion was their clash with Napoli at the weekend. Normally, I would be 100% behind the boys from the San Paolo. Anybody who can beat the Bianconeri will do in my eyes. However, the manner of their victory - or, rather, the decisions which led to it - made me feel a bit of pity for La Vecchia Signora.

The story of the game, for those who missed it. Del P gives Juve the second half lead, Napoli equalise through a blistering run and finish from Gargano. Game on, I thought. But then Mr Bergonzi, the referee, decided to give two of the most pathetic penalties I have ever seen. First a perfectly clean Chiellini tackle sent Lavezzi flying and he pointed to the spot. Then Marcelo Zalayeta bit his old team's bottom with a leap that any self-respecting salmon would have been proud of. Another penalty and the game was over.

I actually FELT something during the post-match interviews with Nicola Legrottaglie. I could share his hurt at the injustice of it all. I know, I know, that Juve have kicked other teams in the same way 100 times before. But, still, I would rather they were beaten fair and square - not in this manner.

One team who were beaten fair and square, once again, were Milan. The curse of Serie A and the San Siro continues. How can a team so beautiful one day be so ugly the next? We have mused on this before and will no doubt do so again.

At least Inter were held to a draw in Palermo throwing a lifeline to the chasing pack. The procession of last year looks unlikely and the league table is really shaping up nicely. Fiorentina blew their chance to go second on Sunday night but the game with Genoa quickly descended into a midfield battle with few goalscoring opportunities at either end.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crazy, crazy nights...

Phew. I have just finished watching Milan take on Shaktar Donetsk in one of the most entertaining games of the Champions League. I lost count of the goalscoring opportunities at both ends. Kalac was superb in Dida's place. Seedorf struck two sweet, sweet goals. And the Gila monster awoke in style with a double. Which brings me to my main point.

Let's take two players - Alberto Gilardino and Amantino Mancini. The Milan man has been regularly jeered by his own fans, the Roma man was booed off on Tuesday night after missing a penalty. Just how fickle are supporters allowed to be?

There was plenty of understandable rage in Gila's goal celebrations. Do the Rossoneri believe in him or not? Do the fans have faith in him or not? Is it OK to cheer your player when he scores and jeer him when he does not. Or should those fans grow up and get behind ALL their players. It has not helped the striker that the fans are ready to get on his back at any moment.

The same argument goes for Mancini. Remember that great goal he scored against Lyon, the one where he did about 68 step-overs? Everyone was praising him to the heavens then. He misses a penalty (not even taken all that badly) and the Olimpico berates him. Hasn't he earned a little more respect? I don't know, maybe there is more to it than that.

One thing is for sure, both players seem to hurt more than most at the criticism thrown their way. There is the same look in Mancini and Gilardino's eyes when their own supporters start to lose patience with them. Their confidence seems a brittle thing and the tifosi have the power to snap it. Maybe they should use that power a little more wisely.

Anyway, a last thought for all Milanisti. If only Serie A sides defended like Shaktar....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Is it time to call it a crisis?

Following defeat by Empoli in the San Siro on Sunday, is it time to admit the Rossoneri are in a full-scale crisis? I myself drooled at their display against Lazio a couple of weeks ago, thinking they were back on track. But ten points from their opening eight Serie A games tell a different story. Anything other than a win against Shaky Donetsk this week would be disastrous.

Did last year's Champions League triumph mask major shortcomings? Or will it all click once Ronaldo and Pato join the fray? I don't like to make snap judgments on a team, especially one which has won so much. Nonetheless, there is work which needs to be done.

Elsewhere, Roma confirmed everything about their crazy nature with a 4-4 draw with Napoli. While Juve showed a real tough attitude to see off Genoa. It wasn't a great display, but boy did they work hard for it. And, sneaky, sneaky Fiorentina cuffed Siena with a fantastic first half and super goal from Giampaolo Pazzini (happy now Juventino?). Unfair not to mention Inter, too, since they lead the league. They won 1-0 against Reggina.

Grande Pazzo!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two out of three ain't bad. Or is it?

I'm going to be honest here, I am facing one of my worst-case footballing scenarios on 17 November. Scotland take on Italy at Hampden with the home side needing a win to guarantee qualification while the Azzurri have two results out of three potentially in their favour (assuming they go on to beat the Faroe Islands).

I had always hoped to avoid this position. In my ideal Scottish-Italian world both teams would go through but it would take Ukraine beating France and a draw in Glasgow to achieve that. Frankly, it is not a combination of results I see as very likely.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have divided loyalties. I want Italy to get through - simple as that. But I wish it was not at Scotland's expense. The build-up to the game will be unbearable and the aftermath, if Alex McLeish masterminds a win, would be unthinkably painful. It is one thing to be hurting on your own (I've done enough of that in my time as an Italy fan). It is quite another to be miserable while all about you are in a state of delirium.

My football intellect reassures me. Player for player Italy are superior to Scotland in every department. Historically, too, there is no comparison. And yet over the years I have suffered enough setbacks to know that being the best on paper is no guarantee of anything.

That is where the worries set in. I often gripe about the English press being the main problem with the England team but there are sections in Scotland which are just as bad. They are just as prone to outlandish claims for their players and stereotyping foreign opposition. If I could have a penny for every time Italy are cast as defensive, play-acting and cynical in the build up to this match I would not be as poor as I am now. To be fair, it strikes me that the media around the world indulges more and more in this pre-match hype nonsense which gets in the way of enjoying the game.

Still, come 17 November I will have to pin my colours to the mast once more. Just as I have since I was a little boy in a Scottish primary school pretending to be Paolo Rossi (hence the picture above) when everyone about me wanted to be Kenny Dalglish. I took it on the chin when Liverpool were lording it over Italian sides in Europe. I hope that I don't have to do it again in a few weeks time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Heading for a showdown

Well, it was competent rather than thrilling. Italy beat Georgia 2-0 in Genoa but it was nothing to blog home about. Still, in the circumstances, I don't think it was ever likely to be a classic. Knowing that we had to win after Scotland and France's victories put a bit more pressure on. So, it was never likely to be anything other than a wee bit edgy.

The first half, I thought, was pretty good. A reasonable amount of pressure and a few good chances before Pirlo slotted home a free-kick straight down the middle. What I didn't like was the taking the foot off the gas in the second half. OK, Georgia looked unlikely to score but still, the job was not done until Grosso delivered a lovely second strike late in the game.

It was impossible to judge the defence on this performance. Ambrosini had a great game at the heart of the team. And Toni made a huge difference to the attack. It will all have to be a whole lot better in Scotland next month. Be interesting to see if anything comes out of the friendly with South Africa on Wednesday which might influence Donadoni's thinking for September.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Only one result will do

The port capital of Liguria plays host to a must-win clash on Saturday night. Italy face up to Georgia in Genoa knowing nothing less than a win will do. Yes, there will be one eye on the afternoon clash between Scotland and Ukraine, but no matter what the outcome of that one, the Azzurri must win.

Most exciting element to the call-ups was the inclusion of young Riccardo Montolivo from Fiorentina. It made a fair bit of sense with Alberto Aquilani out injured. I doubt he will play, but still it shows some good judgment from Mr Donadoni at last.

Also interesting to see both Del P and Inzaghi left out. The former can have no complaints after his shabby display the last time out. Maybe Super Pippo might have been nice to have in there with his goalscoring pedigree but, on the other hand, you have to turn the page some time.

A final thought on the equanimity of the UEFA decision on the pitch invader and Dida. Celtic fined £12,500 and the big Brazilian banned two games. Everyone's a winner...

Stop press: Nice win for the Azzurrini on Friday night, a couple of goals for Acquafresca but a starring role for little Giovinco. It looks like the Italian school is still producing some exciting players. Italia 2-0 Croazia.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Et tu, Juve?

A bit like every superhero needs his nemesis, Fiorentina need their game with Juve every year. After the Bianconeri's brief sabbatical in Serie B it was great to have them back in the Artemio Franchi on Sunday. Oh, and how we laughed at all the old themes revisited! Moggi or no Moggi, it was classic Juve.

David Trezeguet runs in front of Frey in a clearly offside position while Vincenzo Iaquinta gives La Vecchia Signora the lead. And the goal stands! Then, two Juventini scythe down Semioli in the penalty box and the referee waves play-on. Brilliant! Still, maybe things have changed, Fiorentina got a penalty to equalise, what an enjoyable rumble.

Elsewhere, Roma got back to fine winning ways while Milan humiliated Lazio. I had to feel sorry for their young goalkeeper who had a dreadful night but it was good to see Gilardino get amongst the goals. Maybe they will get off his back in the San Siro, now (probably not!). I also felt sorry for Delio Rossi who - even at the best of times - looks like a car salesman under pressure to meet ever tougher targets.

I did not, however, feel much sympathy for Lazio Presidente Claudio Lotito who strode into the ground like some latter-day Roman emperor with his coat draped over his shoulders. He subsequently snuck out with the same coat almost hiding his head like a criminal being escorted from court. Shame on him for deserting his team.

And badge of honour for the week goes to reformed drugs-man and Milan reject Marco Borriello who fired Genoa to their fourth win in a row and put them right in the UEFA Cup hunt at this early stage.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Black Thursday

How smart everyone that reads this blog must be. The last poll asked you to predict which Italian team would go furthest in the UEFA Cup and, almost to a man and woman, you said Fiorentina. I didn't imagine you would all be proved right so quickly.

It was a dark night for the Italiani in Europe. It was no surprise to see Empoli's youngsters tumble out in Switzerland but the loss of Sampdoria - having clawed their way through the Intertoto - was harder to take. Even more disappointing was Palermo's exit to unheralded Mlada Boloslev on penalties.

The Viola themselves only made it through after extra-time and spot-kicks. Although that was clearly a conspiracy to leave the Florentines as tired as possible for the visit of Juve on Sunday.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dumdum Dida in the Doo Doo

It seems that no night for Milan in the Champions League can end without the talk gravitating towards their Brazilian goalkeeper. Once again, he was the centre of attention in Wednesday night's defeat at Celtic Park.

The facts, as they appeared to me, were as follows.

1) A fan got onto the pitch (Celtic will be heavily fined for that).

2) The fan struck Dida (Again, Celtic will be fined even more heavily, maybe a game behind closed doors).

3) Dida set off in chase of the wee Glaswegian but then decided to fall in a heap on the floor as if felled by Mike Tyson.

I was glad to see that Milan as a club quickly disassociated themselves from any thoughts of appealing over this incident - it was simply too comical. However, it does raise further concerns about the big Brazilian. His performances have been so shaky and this is the latest sign of his growing frailty. With all their money, could the European Champions not find anyone better?

On the other front, good game by Lazio. I did not expect them to get anything out of Real Madrid and they remain in with a shout of qualification.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Not this time, please

Having watched Roma commit footballing suicide against Inter at the weekend, it brought back nasty memories of the Champions League last year and THAT visit to Old Trafford. The Giallorossi go back again tonight. Please, boys, keep the head and don't make us a laughing stock like the last time.

On the other front, Celtic host Milan once again. Clearly, the Hoops will hope to meet the Rossoneri on the form they have been showing in Serie A - lacklustre, rarely victorious and without much luck. However, Carlo Ancelotti's men were devastating in their only other group game against Benfica. Which Milan will turn up? Only time will tell...

Friday, September 28, 2007

What do you think of the show so far?

I know we are only five games in but it is shaping up like the kind of Serie A season we all hoped for. The top of the table is wide-open, nobody is without at least a couple of points and there have been some great matches dished up already.

Roma have been involved in a couple of cracking 2-2 draws of late. I thought they were unlucky to surrender the points against Juve but the share of the spoils with Fiorentina was about fair. Although, I would think that wouldn't I?

That old smackable-faced Swede Ibrahimovic has been in great form but so, too, have Totti, Trezeguet, Mutu and many more. Delighted to see Napoli so far up the table, although I think that they might be a bit flattered by their position. Harsh on Milan to lose at Palermo but they must take chances when they come their way.

This weekend sees Roma and Inter go head to head in what is sure to give us talking points for weeks to come. Totti should be back, Ibra will be ready and it is all systems go. The Stadio Olimpico should be buzzing - I know I am already...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Inglesi? No grazie!

It is that time again when we go back into battle for the Champions League. Has so much time really passed since the legendary Paolio Maldinio (I give him his English name) put Premiership football in its place?

Our four contenders go in with very different expectations. Inter MUST show they have Euro quality as well as Serie A Scudetto-winning potential. Milan have nothing to prove - just more records to set. Roma could be the dark horse but must shake off the shadows of Old Trafford. While anything, I would say, is a bonus for Lazio.

Still, I will be backing them all this week and all our UEFA sides later in the week. Especially Fiorentina, whose game is being screened by a pay-per-view porn channel! Now try explaining that to the wife...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Entertaining and winning? (And a quote about a compass)

It is a rare team that manages to both entertain and win. Most fans will settle for the latter and, if it is accompanied by the former, so much the better. Only the most contrary supporter will applaud his team for playing exciting football after a heavy defeat (see Fiorentina 3-7 Milan circa 1992).

However, could it be that Italy's most exciting team might actually take the Scudetto this year? It is early days yet but Roma are setting a good pace at the top of the table. They have some tough games in store but their thrilling play has brought them three wins out of three.

I haven't seen any of their main rivals - Inter and Milan - play football anywhere near as pleasing to the eye. I know that it ultimately does not matter how you win but it would be nice to see a team playing good football take the title. Of course, there is plenty of time for the others to raise their game. But, at the moment, Roma are by far the most fun to watch AND they are winning.

A propos of nothing I wanted to add this quote which I just read for the first time recently. It is attributed to Italian sea captain Baciccino Parodi and sums up so much about the nation's sense of perspective.

"I can manage without a compass, but I do not feel like setting out without lasagne."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tales of the San Siro

The term "theatre of football" has become a little tired but, in the case of the Milan stadium, I think you have to make an exception. The San Siro cuts a dramatic figure from the exterior and, once inside, your view of the game is truly impressive.
I set out on Thursday on a red-eye flight from Liverpool to Pisa to be met by my parents and taken to the heart of Tuscany. Our first port of call was a little restaurant on the Garfagnana boundary where I enjoyed penne arrabbiata and grilled sole for nine euros. In other words, the same price I had paid for a chewy bacon roll and a rotten coffee at Liverpool airport earlier in the day. Such is life.
Thursday night was a fish treat as we sampled spaghetti alle vongole followed by lobster and langoustine. A few bottles of Vermentino made the night complete.
I realise, now, I am straying somewhat from football but stick with it, we will get there in due course.
Friday brought more of the same on the quality eating front. A beautiful plate of linguine al tartufo followed by veal with rosemary was truly outstanding. I would certainly not go hungry during my trip.
The following day we set off sharp to meet up with the rest of our supporters group in Bergamo. Took lunch in the northern city, then set off in our nine-seater van for the game. We arrived hours early of course but in good time to soak up a bit of pre-match atmosphere. And what an atmosphere.
Even though I was in my seat more than two hours before kick-off the time passed quickly. It is amazing how a few chants of "Chi non salta e' un francese!" and "Oy! Oy! Oy! Pippo Inzaghi segna per noi!" can help you get through a long wait. We had decent seats, second tier, pretty central and a brilliant view of Andrea Pirlo in action. The game was not great - no goals - but the Milan man was breathtaking. One gentle touch with the outside of the boot to set up a teammate was worth the trip alone.
Getting out of the ground was hard work but we were back to Bergamo late and then returned to Toscana on Sunday. Down the road it was time for more good food and attempts to digest the implications of the results. By Wednesday, however, all previous considerations were thrown up in the air. Scotland produced a breathtaking result to beat France, Italy showed some spirit to beat Ukraine. A three-way fight for two qualification places beckons.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The rematch

This blog is on a break to the San Siro to watch the return leg of the World Cup final rematch.

I thought I would post a fond memory of Italy v France for during my absence.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Return of the 'Culo'!

Ah, it took just a week but there it was on Sunday. Large as life and just how we remembered it - Il Culo di Juve! Drawing 2-2 in the closing stages of a pulsating tie in Sardinia, up popped Giorgio Chiellini to grab a last gasp winner that gave the Bianconeri six points out of six so far. There is no Calciopoli sentence, points deduction or court in the land that can eliminate the Culo!

In fairness, La Vecchia Signora maybe deserved the win for her efforts and the referee was atrocious. I watched the match on C5 for the first time and had the following observations. 1) They really need to get Ms Esposto to say something because otherwise it descends into the Chappers and Sharpo show; 2) They could do with a commentator who can pronounce the names properly, when Legrottaglie came on I thought Juve had signed a new player until I saw who it was; and 3) Get rid of John Barnes, although his attempts at saying Camoranesi (Caromanesi, Caramellesi, Canamanesi!) were hilarious.

Elsewhere, congratulations to Napoli and condolences to Udinese after the Azzurri slapped five in up in Friuli. I think Inter were worth their win over Empoli - old flipper-foot Ibrahimovic at his arrogant, annoying best. Roma looked stylish in dispensing with Siena. And Fiorentina snatched a point off a tired-looking Milan, lovely footwork from Santana to set up Mutu for the equaliser.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Draws, draws everywhere

The magic urns have been out in force and, on the Champions League front anyway, they proved quite benign for Italian teams - on paper at least.

As a third seed, Lazio were always likely to face a tricky group but their fate in Group C is acceptable. Real Madrid could be anything under new management but it will be against Werder Bremen and Olympiakos that their qualification chances will be decided. I think Delio Rossi would have settled for that after the heroics in the preliminary round.

For Roma, it is a chance for revenge or, at least, to set the record straight at Old Trafford. This time around though, just points at stake so even a 7-1 hammering would not compromise their progress in a group with Manchester United. Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kiev are two big names but whether they are up to past glories remains to be seen.

It is the same again for Milan as they land Celtic once more along with Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk. It sets up the intriguing prospect of Cristiano Lucarelli and Massimo Donati coming back to Italy to show Serie A what it is missing. The Rossoneri must fancy their qualification chances although all their opponents will be particulary tough on their home grounds.

Finally, the fates smiled most kindly on Inter. They really have no excuses if they don't progress against PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce. Mind you, how many times have I said that before?

The UEFA Cup draw saw Fiorentina land Dutch side Groningen (certainly not the easiest team in their respective pot), Empoli make the short trip across the border to Zurich, Samp play the snappily named AaB of Denmark (I think) and Palermo land the exotic sounding Mlada Boleslav. On first impression, Empoli may have the toughest time but it is good to have four teams in there all with outstanding chances of getting to the ridiculous group stages.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Can I kick it?

I meant to post this earlier in the week but forgot all about it. There has been a lot of pompous stuff written about how it is a bad example to fans, etc, when we are trying to address violence in stadiums.

That may be true but, what they all seem to have ignored, is just how funny it is!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A stirring start

We kept harping on about how good Serie A was going to be with the big boys back but there was always a nagging doubt. On the evidence of week one's games, we needn't have worried.

First up was Lazio v Torino which was made the more interesting by Torino going ahead through a delightful Rosina chip and Lazio's defence being in a state of emergency. Still, we were treated to a decent match with the usual Pandev and Rocchi goals for the Laziali before the very interesting Vailatti grabbed an equaliser.

Then up stepped the Vecchia Signora to demolish Livorno. The result was maybe a bit harsh on the Tuscans (5-1) but nobody was going to deny the Bianconeri on their return. With Trezeguet grabbing three and Iaquinta a couple there was plenty for the home fans to cheer.

On Sunday, I watched Fiorentina huff and puff for a half before finally knocking down stuffy Empoli while Julio Cesar was committing hari-kari for Inter and getting sent off to let Udinese snatch a draw late in the game. By that stage, Milan had already slapped three past Genoa to ensure a strong start to the campaign for them. Elsewhere, important away wins for Cagliari and Sampdoria caught the eye.

The night game was probably the best of the lot. Roma went to Sicily and put on a scintillating show for the first 45 minutes. They were 2-0 up but could have been further clear. Then Palermo swapped things about and came out all guns blazing. They were unlucky not to get at least one goal but the Giallorossi stood firm. It was a fine way to end my first weekend back on Serie A watch - may they all be this entertaining.

The best thing of all, to my mind, was that young Italian players were among the stand-outs. First Alessandro Rosina scored a lovely lob for Torino, then Riccardo Montolivo outdid him for Fiorentina and finally Alberto Aquilani scored a screamer against Palermo. All in all, the future looks good for the Azzurri.

Friday, August 24, 2007

We are off!

Well, after all the anticipation we can finally get under way this weekend. Across Saturday and Sunday two nicely-packed days of ten cracking games. Channel 5 kicks off its coverage with Inter v Udinese on Sunday afternoon but Palermo v Roma on Sunday night is probably the standout fixture.

Plenty of other interest with Juve v Livorno, a Tuscan derby and Genoa v Milan (sad that the death of a fan so many years ago means no Rossoneri will be allowed into the game). As always, full reaction here as soon as I can.

A brief final preview on the teams not already studied.

Udinese: I like the Quagliarella signing and after under-achieving last year they could come back with a bang. Rinaldi's forecast: 6th.

Palermo: I would hope they can build on their great start to the previous campaign but I fear their batty president will not allow it. Rinaldi's forecast: 8th.

Sampdoria: They may well confound me as I drew up my predictions before they signed Cassano but I will stick to my guns. Rinaldi's forecast: 9th.

Torino: Really the Granata should be top half of the table easily but their signings don't impress me much. Rinaldi's forecast: 12th.

Atalanta: I don't believe they will scale the heights of last season, however I would be happy to be proved wrong. Rinaldi's forecast: 13th.

Parma: They could be an exciting, young revelation but it will be hard work for them. Rinaldi's forecast: 14th.

Catania: It was sad the way the whole violence issue overshadowed their great start to last season. Still, it looks like more hard graft this term. Rinaldi's forecast: 17th.

Cagliari: Sunk without Suazo. Rinaldi's forecast: 18th.

Siena: Trouble in Tuscany. Rinaldi's forecast: 19th.

Reggina: No escape this time. Rinaldi's forecast: 20th.

* Supporters of all teams please note, I am notoriously useless at predicting anything...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

That's the look...

Ok, we know not to get worried about Italy's first friendly of the season by now. The lack of motivation and preparation mean we never play well. Think Lippi against Iceland and the likes.

Just the same, there was some reason to be concerned about the display against Hungary on Wednesday night and not just the 3-1 scoreline. And I am not talking about the way some of our big name players performed.

I have tried to illustrate the problem (left) but I don't know if I have done it justice. It is not Donadoni himself but the look on his face for much of the second half. Understandably he was filled with despair but - surely - he should not transmit it to his players.

I don't think you would ever see Lippi, Capello, Ferguson or Mourinho looking so downhearted on the bench. Inside, yes, they might be dying but on the outside they would look cool and collected. Or, possibly, they would have the kind of grimace which says: "wait until I get you shower back in the dressing room!"

Instead, Donadoni looked lost, his eyes glazed over and just hoping to avoid a heavier defeat. I am not of the "Dona must go" gang but he does need to turn things around quickly to avoid embarrassment against France in a couple of weeks time...


Elsewhere, my personal countdown to the Serie A season continues with a look at the Roman and Milanese sides.

Inter: Although the pre-season signals have not been at all impressive (Man Utd game apart) I still think they set the standards to beat. The addition of Suazo gives them the power and pace Adriano was supposed to. It will take another year for the advantage they got out of Calciopoli to fully unwind. Rinaldi's forecast: 1st.

Milan: They have been quiet on the transfer market but the addition of Pato (later this year) was an eye-catching one. They also have a squad which continues to improve with age. I expect a big season from Gourcuff and, possibly, Ronaldo now that they have isolated his "tubby gland". Still, I reckon they might miss out on the top prize. Rinaldi's forecast: 2nd.

Roma: Last season they fizzled out trying to fight on both fronts but, despite the loss of Chivu, they look better this season. New boy Ludovic Giuly is perfect for their game and if they have signed Cicinho that plugs another gap in the squad. I would like to think they could make a serious Scudetto challenge but it is always hard against the boys from the north. Rinaldi's forecast: 3rd.

Lazio: I believe they over-achieved last season and have not strengthened significantly during the summer. There is no doubt Delio Rossi is brilliant at getting the best out of the resources at his disposal but - if they get through - the demands of Champions League and Serie A may be too much. Rinaldi's forecast: 7th.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

First blood to Roma

In the first "big match" of the new season, Roma won the Supercup against Inter thanks to a Daniele De Rossi penalty (yes, you read right, Totti did not take it). And the Giallorossi were well worth their win.

Roma took the game to Inter from the start with little Ludovic Giuly fitting into their style of play perfectly. Even Mirko Vucinic looked pretty lively, giving Burdisso a very hard time - so much so he was swapped flanks with Cordoba. Still, for all their exciting play, Spalletti's men could not take the lead and you always felt Inter might be more clinical if they got a chance.

As the game wore on, Inter came into it a bit but never with the power of reigning champs. Too many of their key players (Stankovic, Vieira and the likes) looked a bit short of match-sharpness. You couldn't say that of Marco Materazzi who was, by far, their man of the match.

Just when it looked like extra time might be on the cards, Totti duped the hapless Burdisso into sticking out a leg and got a penalty. De Rossi thumped it home with Julio Cesar getting close to it but not close enough. That strike with about 12 minutes to go was enough to give Roma a deserved win.

Two points to be made. Firstly, the Giallorossi must get more deadly in front of goal or they risk falling into the trap of last season - thrilling build-up but not enough punch. Inter, for their part, must be worried at how comprehensively they were outplayed at times. There looks to be a lot of fitness work to be done with just a week to go before their title defence begins.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Countdown to the new season - Part Two

Tuscany has never had it so good with four teams in Serie A again this season. They all have different hopes and expectations, having pretty much flourished last term. Here is my forecast for what lies in store. Remember, just over a week to go now!

Siena: It was a long, hard battle last season to survive by the skin of their teeth. I fear, however, that this time around the competition looks too strong. I like the strike force of Maccarone and Chiesa but I believe the support behind them may not be enough. I think the dreams of the Palio town are over. Rinaldi's forecast: 19th.

Livorno: A real surprise package of recent times, I believe the bubble will burst this season. The loss of Lucarelli is a big one both in terms of goals and influence. And, ultimately, the volatile nature of their president must take its toll. Hopefully the Tavano/Tristan partnership can gel nicely but, if not, their drop could be rapid. Rinaldi's forecast: 16th.

Empoli: They have already over-achieved by getting into European competition and that might be a hard burden to take. Just the same, they have shown in recent times they know how to get the best out of their resources. Maybe not the revelation of last year but still solid. Rinaldi's forecast: 10th.

Fiorentina: There are a lot of unknowns making the Viola hard to judge. On the one hand, their form of recent seasons suggests a top four finish but, on the other, they have lost Luca Toni. That puts extra pressure on Adrian Mutu and Giampaolo Pazzini - not to mention Bobo Vieri. Still, the rest of the team remains intact with a few interesting young additions. I think they might go close to the Champions League placings but not quite make it. Rinaldi's forecast: 5th.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Il calcio che conta...

Two pieces of good news. First of all, meaningful football returns tonight as far as Italian teams are concerned with Lazio seeking progress in the Champions League. Kind-hearted Phillipe Mexes has done his bit for capital relations by saying something along the lines of "I hope they go out!". Personally, I think it will be tough for Delio Rossi's men - I see them weaker than last season - but I hope they can sneak through.

The second piece of good news is Antonio Cassano's return to Italy - namely Sampdoria. I admit I am surprised at the club but it is great to have him back in Serie A. If they can handle his temperamental talent he could make them at least UEFA Cup contenders. If not, he will at least give us some exciting headlines when he stomps off the training ground ... again.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Countdown to the new season - Part One

With just a couple of weeks until the Serie A action starts I thought I would take a look at the season ahead and the prospects of Italy's 20 finest teams. To get the ball rolling, I have cast my eye over the newly-promoted sides. Normally, they would be expected to have a fight on their hands but when you consider the names involved, they could all make a major impact.

Juventus - The old enemy is back - bloodied but unbowed. The rump of the team which was punished for Calciopoli remains but is, of course, a couple of years older. So, Del P, Trez, Buffon, Nedved and Camo should be solid enough. Early signs are, however, that the squad is not going to be of sufficient quality to make a scrap for the Scudetto. I like the look of the Almiron-Tiago partnership in midfield but it will surely take time to bed down. And, despite signing Iaquinta, I hope they give a bit of space to Palladino - one of our best young talents. I don't like Salihamidzic - I think he is a dirty wee player - so I hope he is used sparingly, if at all. Rinaldi's forecast: 4th place.

Napoli - I admit it, I am worried for the boys from the San Paolo. From what I have seen they look ill-equipped to cope with the leap forward. Their President has promised three more signings and that is the very least they could do with. At least they can count on their great home support which should be worth a few points. However, I have a feeling that Cannavaro junior might be a busy many sorting out the defence. Shame they couldn't get their hands on Cassano, he would have been a great fit for the club and city. Rinaldi's forecast: 15th place.

Genoa - The argument above for the Napoletani probably holds true for the Grifone. However, I think they have made some more eye-catching signings. Cesare Bovo, Matteo Paro and Marco Borriello form an interesting addition to each department of the squad. It is never easy because expectation levels are set so high by the fans but if they can get off to a decent start they could do good things. A UEFA spot is probably a bit optimistic but they might scrape into the top half. Rinaldi's forecast: 11th place.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What have we learned

I tried to cast an eye over the Man Utd versus Chelsea game on Sunday afternoon with a view towards who might be the strongest in the Premiership and - later on - in the Champions League. I am not sure I learned all that much from a game which did little to raise the blood pressure until it reached the inevitable penalty kicks.

Neither side was at full strength (maybe Man Utd were closer to it) and there was little chance to judge the new signings (particularly on the red side). Nani seemed to struggle to get into the game when he came on. While Mourinho will no doubt be pleased that Florent Malouda appears to have settled in well.

It's never easy to take too much from these games but I am beginning to see Chelsea as a bit too one-dimensional to really be a great team. Sure, everybody looks in their physical prime but where is the invention and creativity? Joe Cole? Sean Wright-Phillips? Man Utd are certainly the more pleasing on the eye but they have looked shaky at the back in pre-season which will encourage their rivals. I haven't seen much of Liverpool - the supposed third force - but they will have to shake off the shackles of being even more dull than Chelsea to make a challenge. They have made some exciting signings but will the tactics remain the same?

Oh, and I thought the Special One might have got his boys to practice penalties.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Stroll for Suazo

Any doubts you might have had about David Suazo's potential impact at Inter were dispelled to a degree last night. His blistering pace put at the service of a quality team helped to rip Man Utd apart in front of their own fans.

Now, it all carries the proviso that this was just a friendly and you can't judge anything from them. Just the same the Honduran hitman looked very impressive in the first half of the game. At one point he burned past Vidic forcing him to drag him to the ground. His cool finish of his second goal was also a joy.

The same could not be said for the chubby, unhappy Brazilian who replaced him up front. What has happened to Adriano? He used to be a force of nature, brushing defenders aside and battering the ball into the net for fun. Now he shambles around the field missing sitters and generally looking fed-up if his teammates don't give him the ball.

Every time he got the ball last night, he lost it. I don't know if it is his pay packet which forces Inter to keep him but how much more patience can they have? With Cruz, Crespo, Suazo and Ibrahimovic to pick from I can't believe he will feature in anything other than the Coppa Italia. A move would surely be good for all concerned.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Say it aint so Joe-seppe!

Very disappointed indeed to read of Giuseppe Rossi's move to Villareal in La Liga. I had held out high hopes that we might get "our boy" back in Serie A but to no avail. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that a relative tiddler of a club (no offence Villareal fans) can outbid any Italian rivals. I'm not sure how serious the interest in Italy was but it would have been nice to have one of our genuine entertainers on our shores.

Elsewhere, the Serie A fixture list is finally out with a few crackers in the opening weeks.

Palermo v Roma looks the tastiest treat on opening day with Milan v Fiorentina in week two. And the sparks should really fly by week four when Roma face Juve in the Bianconeri's first big match since their return. Oh, I can hardly wait for August 26 to roll around.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The most important goals...

I know I really should not read these thing but, just the same, they really make my blood boil. That may well be the point of publishing them. But, still, the Times 50 most important goals makes laughable reading.

You might think it is a joke when you have a look around the lower reaches. But wait until you get to the top and it really becomes farcical. It is so anglo-centric it really has to be read to be believed. I know it is not about the best goals but it would be hard to say any of the following did not deserve their place in the top 50.

1) Gianni Rivera's winning goal in Italy's 4-3 triumph over West Germany in "the game of the century" in 1970.

2) Dejan Savicevic's amazing lob in Milan's demolition of Barcelona, cementing the Rossoneri as the greatest team of the era.

3) Marco Tardelli's World Cup final "screamer".

4) Pretty much every goal Maradona scored to take Napoli to the scudetto (and his goal to sink England in 1986).

5) Fabio Grosso's strike against Germany last summer.

Not to mention Super Pippo, the master of important goals?

I know it is a nonsense but, just the same, a lot of people will read it and believe it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Baffled by Bobo

As a lifelong Viola man I must admit I am surprised to see them sign Bobo Vieri. In some ways, of course, it makes sense. They needed somebody with a confirmed Serie A reputation to replace the loss of Luca Toni but, just the same, aren't the big man's best days behind him?

Of course, he is not THAT old and - back to his best - he would be a real asset. However, it seemed like his mind was more concentrated on fashion business and nightclubs or the like. It is also a bit of a slap in the face for Pazzini. Still, you have got to have faith in what Prandelli has done so far.

Very much looking forward to the new season with Napoli, Genoa and Juve back in harness. Going to be much tougher to get a top four finish for everyone this term. And even Inter might lose a couple of games...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A blog break

I am heading off on holiday to celebrate the one year anniversary of Italy's World Cup win. However, fear not, I shall be back to the blog in a couple of weeks. So brace yourselves...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Return of the Tallies

There was a time when Paolo Di Canio, Enrico Annoni, Rino Gattuso, Lorenzo Amoruso, Sergio Porrini, the Bonetti brothers, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Pasquale Bruno and the likes made their living in Scotland. Those were great days for me because there was rarely a game without Italian interest. But, slowly, they disappeared - so imagine my delight to see Massimo Donati signing up for Celtic.

I know of at least one Celtic fan out there hungry for information (and a good steak and a grappa!). So here is the benefit of my not-so-great knowledge of the Italian game. Donati was part of the great Atalanta youth set-up so his technique can be pretty much taken for granted. He also has about 26 Italy Under 21 caps to his name although he never graduated up to the full Nazionale. It would have been a natural progression as he played at Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 level. Part of that, I think, can be put down to his unsuccessful move to Milan which has since seen him loaned out to Parma, Samp, Torino, Messina before returning to Bergamo.

I have always thought he looked apparently quite cumbersome but was actually deceptively skillful. He must have about 200 Serie A appearances under his belt at the age of 26 so that says he must be doing something right. He doesn't get a lot of goals (about nine in Serie A, I think) and he does pick up the odd booking. So that sounds like a pretty good replacement for Neil Lennon doesn't it?

The only question mark has to be over how he adapts to Scotland but he is a reasonably physically imposing presence so I don't think that should be a problem. Now I hope a few more follow him and we can get back to those good days of an Italian-packed SPL again.