Monday, February 26, 2007

A three-way thriller

With the Serie A league title decided and Roma and Palermo apparently safely settled in second and third the most exciting part of the league looks like being the fight for the last Champions League spot. Three of our biggest guns - Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina could all be in the running.

Without handicaps it would be an even better four-way fight for a couple of places with Palermo being dragged in. Their form is so bad at the moment they may yet have to fend off some of these sides. Milan huffed and puffed to a 1-0 late win over Sampdoria (Celtic take note of how organised the Doriani were). Tommaso Rocchi struck a screamer as Lazio saw off Cagliari while it was the usual Mutu and Toni show as the Viola scored a vital win over Empoli.

Emotionally, it would be incredible to see Fiorentina get fourth after a 15 point penalty at the start of the campaign. Then again, UEFA would probably change the rules and only allow three qualifiers and leave us missing out again...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mixed bag at the top table

Last night's viewing was Roma v Lyon with the Giallorossi more than holding their own against one of the most-touted teams in the Champions League. The visitors started well but Totti and company gradually came onto a game and had their chances. Once again, the lack of a quality striker was there for all to see.

Still, they showed a lot of fight and might just manage to sneak through if they can score first in Lyon. The trouble is, in a quiet game, they picked up EIGHT yellow cards making the squad prospects for progress a little shaky. First job, however, to seal a dramatic qualification.

Inter were undone by two wonderful strikes from Valencia being held to a 2-2 draw at home. The Nerazzurri did have the initiative for a fair bit of the time so I wouldn't give up hope on them yet. Nonetheless, it will take a great performance to qualify for the quarter finals.

Sadly, the English teams did rather well with Chelsea getting an away score draw and Liverpool doing even better. What a twit the Barcelona goalie looked...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The champs is back

It was great to see some gripping football action in the Champions League last night with more to come tonight. The Celtic v Milan clash was a typically cagey and tactical affair but it looked like the Rossoneri had the edge thanks to their midfield quality. A little more precision in the final third and they could have come away with a win.

Still, the 0-0 scoreline leaves all options open but Milan must be strong favourites. I thought Sno had a good game for Celtic while Pirlo and Gattuso were stand-outs for the Rossoneri. Although, it was goalless, it was a thoroughly entertaining clash.

Tonight it is Inter and Roma's turn. The big question is have the Nerazzurri shaken off their traditional role as Euro disappointments? They are all-conquering in Italy but will they let us down again on the Champs League stage? As for the Giallorossi, they can be anything, let's hope they have one of their good nights.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy birthday, Roby!

Much has been said about all the bad things to do with Italian football of late. So it is nice to celebrate something good. Today is Roberto Baggio's 40th birthday. The only sad thing about it, really, is that he is no longer gracing the fields of Serie A.

Baggio is probably my favourite all-time Italian player (a straight fight with Giancarlo Antognoni). I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard about him (in a small pizzeria with some friends). And just how thrilling his first impact with both Fiorentina and Italy was. He never quite had the same effect at the big three - Juve, Milan and Inter - preferring to save his best for smaller sides like Bologna and Brescia later in his career. You always got the feeling that he needed to be loved to produce his best.

A fragile figure, he underwent serious knee surgery as a youngster when the Viola signed him from Vicenza. He became an idol of the Fiesole and his transfer to Juve provoked riots in the streets. His goal against Czechoslovakia at Italia '90 remains one of the greatest in the history of the Mondiali. His performance for Fiorentina against Dynamo Kiev in the UEFA Cup the stuff of legend. On an icy pitch, his poise and elegance was there for all to see.

I can only speculate how he might be celebrating his 40th year. Possibly out shooting or meditating (what a man of contradictions). Whatever he is up to, I hope he is thinking about coming back to football in some way soon. Ci manchi tanto, Roby! Buon compleanno!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The route to self-destruction

Is Italian football really intent on killing off what little chance it had of being competitive in Europe? First of all Calciopoli robbed us of half of our best teams in the events. Now we are making them all play in front of little or no crowd.

I know we face a problem more grave than most but I don't remember anyone else inflicting such self-harm after such incidents. There has been plenty of coin throwing, pitch invading and senseless violence across Europe. I don't remember any of those nations bashing ALL their teams over the head because one of them offended.

It always looked like being a bad year but now I can only see failure in both Champions League and UEFA Cup. Our teams were weak enough without having much home support. It is true that the San Siro was often half empty for European games anyway but such limits on capacity will make for a poor atmosphere and definitely assist both Valencia and Celtic. At least Roma get a full house but they face the toughest game of all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Our silent Sunday

Well, it promised to be a strange weekend and so it turned out. Watching Fiorentina take on Udinese at a deserted Artemio Franchi had its usual surreal atmosphere. The game without fans is rubbish.

Not that I can complain about the result but, just the same, I think Roberto Mancini has a point. After his Inter side beat Chievo in front of no supporters he said it would be just as well to stop the championship now. It certainly seems a fundamental flaw to play some games in front of fans, some in front of season ticket holders and others in front of nobody at all.

Biggest shock of the weekend was probably Empoli's away win at Palermo. Maybe the Sicilians were still recovering from the terrible events of a fortnight ago. Just the same, their form has nose-dived and it gave the little Tuscans the fourth Champions League spot for the time being.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who is the biggest?

I have been intrigued by the outrage sparked by Rafa Benitez's comments on the respective "size" of Liverpool and Everton. I suspect there has been a bit of media manipulation of the story but it got me thinking. How do you measure which is the "biggest" club? Is it support? Is it success? Is history more important than the present? Let's take Italy.

Juventus v Torino. You would say no doubt Juve is the bigger team on all counts. But, then again, they tell me that in Turin itself the Bianconeri are not the best supported side.

Milan v Inter. On domestic glory there is not much to choose between them but on the European front the Rossoneri are streets ahead. I think they also get a bigger average support so maybe the red and black half is bigger. Or is it?

Roma v Lazio. I'd be inclined to say Roma on all counts. They have won more in Italy although without a great deal of Euro glory. Also they have spent a lot less time in the lower divisions than their city rivals.

Sampdoria v Genoa. That one is a bit like past versus present. There is no doubt that the Doriani have been a major force in recent times but the Grifone is our oldest club and has many more honours in its locker. I'm inclined to give it to the Rossoblu.

Fiorentina v Anyone else in Tuscany. No brainer. Ale Viola.

Venezia v Vicenza. I don't really care I just put it in for Venezian and as an excuse for another favourite proverb. "Veneziani gran signori, padovani gran dottori, vicentini magnagatti, veronesi tutti matti". Venetians fine gentlemen, Paduans great doctors, Vicentini cat-eaters and Veronese all mad". Apparently Venezia gave cats to Vicenza to combat a problem with mice. The cats were never returned - prompting the "gran signori" to speculate on what happened to them. Apparently Vicentini themselves say "finché ghe xe gati se magna" - as long as there are cats we will eat!

Anyway, anyone think of any other interesting my club is bigger than yours comparisons?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Adesso basta!

Am I the only one getting a little bit tired of how Italian football is being portrayed at the moment in the British media? OK, there is a problem. No doubt the Catania v Palermo incidents were disgraceful and demand change. But you would be under the impression that to go to a Serie A game was to take your life in your hands.

I've been to plenty of matches and never felt the slightest bit of danger. I have never had a scooter land on my head, never been spat on or been struck by a projectile. Indeed, I have always enjoyed the atmosphere. Hopefully, that will continue in future.

I am not sticking my head in the sand and saying that we don't have a problem. We clearly do. But to portray the country as a den of violent disgrace goes too far in my opinion. It is not as if the UK is perfect.

I know Italy has more serious issues. I am not trying to make light of them. But, please, spare us some of the sanctimonious coverage.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Blackest Night

Catania v Palermo. It should have been a celebration of Sicilian football returned to the top level. Instead, it turned out to be one of the saddest nights I can remember for the Italian game. Injuries, arrests and a policeman killed. It makes me feel ill.
No games this weekend. Nazionale cancelled and Euro 2012 bid as good as destroyed. Will it never change? From Calciopoli to the Mondiale to this. The rollercoaster of loving the Italian game has hit one of its lowest points. I could write a lot more but, just now, I don't feel like it at all.
Sono senza parole, ragazzi, senza parole.