Thursday, March 29, 2007

Grazie Luca!

Well the nerves were unnecessary as Italy completed a competent win over Scotland on Wednesday night. I thought it was a pretty comfortable victory - one save for Buffon - and if Di Natale had been a bit sharper it could have been more emphatic. As it was, the great hitman Luca Toni did the job. And what a vital win it was given the way the group is shaping up.

The defence was almost impossible to judge as it was rarely put under pressure but the wide men Zambrotta and Oddo were immense. Both got forward in style, both delivered fine crosses. I thought the De Rossi - Gattuso tandem was impressive and allowed Perrotta the freedom to push forward. De Rossi, in particular, bossed the midfield with a great deal of composure.

Di Natale did fine although he should have scored at least one goal. While Camoranesi was his usual frustrating self mixing brilliance with blunder. Of the subs coming on, Del Piero seemed intent on showing off his dribbling skills, Pirlo slowed things down nicely and Quagliarella really did not have time to be judged. Now, off to the Faroes to leapfrog up the table.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The future's purple

If there ever was a way to make me happy about the official opening of the new Wembley then this was it. A tripletta from Viola man Giampaolo Pazzini - and what a hat-trick.

A total stonker after 27 seconds to become the first man in history to score at the new stadium and then write his name further into the record books with three. By all accounts, he should have had more. Things look bright for the Viola.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Time for La Nazionale

OK, we know Totti won't play until September at the earliest. We have our reservations about Donadoni. But, still, it is time to get the old Azzurri strips back on again as Scotland travel to Bari to face the world champions.

Alex McLeish's men, of course, have the little matter of Georgia to get out of the way before them. Whatever happens, however, they will be ahead of Italy when they meet them and that makes it a must-win home tie. Looking at the respective squads, there is no way anything less than three points is acceptable but football can teach some cruel lessons.

New faces are Max Tonetto and Fabio Quagliarella. Both have been doing well this season. Tonetto has been around the block a few times and looked like being one of those nearly men. However, his form with Roma is such you could not argue with the call up. Quagliarella is a bit more exciting. He is a regular scorer of spectacular goals and a genuinely tricky customer. He is unlikely to get the nod ahead of the likes of Toni and Gilardino but, still, he has the potential to come on and be a match winner. So, all eyes on Bari next week...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Guidolin loses it

My weekend viewing was spoiled immensely by the antics of Palermo boss Francesco Guidolin during their home tie with Fiorentina. Adrian Mutu scored a cracking goal against his team after Roberto Guana fell to the ground injured. This was bound to happen with the new directive to players only to stop when the referee halts play. Maybe Mutu was a bit sneaky, we'll never know, but equally none of the Palermo players stopped playing.

However, Mr Guidolin went bonkers. He was eventually sent off and continued his tirade against Cesare Prandelli and most of the Fiorentina players. Apparently they should have let Palermo equalise, in his opinion. In truth, the Viola did take their foot off the gas anyway and the Sicilians did draw. But their manager's antics left a bitter taste. I have always liked him in the past but, this time around, he got it badly wrong. Especially when his own team has been guilty of such actions in the past...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Derby weekend

Here is a bizarre thought which struck me at lunchtime. Has there ever been a Milan derby which meant so little as the one which will be played this weekend? Certainly I can't think of one where the points gap has been so huge in Inter's favour. I doubt even the great team of the 1960s ever had this kind of advantage.

Coincidentally, it is also derby weekend in Scotland with similarly little at stake. I know no Old Firm game is ever unimportant but after the downfall in Milan it is hard to see how Celtic could get "up" for this game. Still, no doubt they will manage it.

On another note, the Champs league draw has thrown up two intriguing ties for the Italian sides left. Milan must once again lock horns with Bayern Munich. The Rossoneri are more than capable of getting through but they must start to get more goalscoring out of their team.

The other tie is even more appetising from my point of view. Roma take on Manchester United in another game they will be considered as underdogs. Long may it continue - right the way to the final! I am even thinking of going down to Old Trafford. Of course, if you listen to Sky Sports an all-English final is a virtual formality. Mind you, wasn't that the case last year, and the year before, and the year before...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The long night of the Rossoneri

Well, Milan made it through but boy did they have to work hard for it. Eventually a Kaka cracker in extra time was all that separated the sides as they knocked Celtic out of the competition. In truth, the Rossoneri were clearly the better side over the two legs but the Hoops remained in with a shout throughout.

I felt Carlo Ancelotti was a bit overcautious fielding Ambrosini and Gattuso. It resulted in a team which had a lot of the ball but let itself down with the final pass over and over again. I also find both Inzaghi and Gilardino frustrating in their propensity to spend time on the ground. Great strikers both but they need to invest in better studs. Kaka needs to find his shooting boots while Pirlo is not as influential at the moment as he can be. The defence was not harshly tested but I am quite liking the arrival of Bonera which rejuvenates the back line considerably and Oddo has settled in well.

From a Celtic point of view there is no doubt that there is the spine of a team there which can make a regular impact in Europe. Most pressing priority, to my mind, is to find a replacement for Neil Lennon for games against the top teams. If they could find somebody like Milan's Brocchi it would give them the extra pace and energy needed for such matches and also provide a better platform for Nakamura and McGeady. The young centre-backs looked very good but could definitely benefit from having a real top class experienced player to learn from (not sure Pressley fits that bill).

Finally, a bit more strength in depth in the striking department is obviously needed since the "drop off" from Hesselink to Beattie is enormous in European terms. Oh, and make sure they keep a hold of Boruc - that man is brilliant.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Grazie Roma!

You post one great dummy and then someone comes along and makes it look like nothing.

What a piece of stepover magic from Roma's Brazilian genius. And what a great result. In a way it was set up perfectly for the Giallorossi to catch Lyon out on the break but boy were they good.

Sorry end to Inter's campaign. I must have written that of about every Champions League they have ever been part of. They were too scared and took too few risks, too late. The end of the game stuff was pathetic although it would probably have calmed down a lot quicker if Navarro hadn't stormed off the bench to break Burdisso's nose...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Italian school's last stand

If there is one thing we learned at the World Cup, it is that Italians know how to manage a football team. Marcello Lippi took an unfancied bunch and turned them into the best on the planet. Now it is up to his direct descendents Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Luciano Spalletti to uphold the nation's honour.

It looks tough for all three, particularly Mancio and Luciano. Both could do to grab a goal first if they are to stand any chance of getting the results they need away from home. Milan have to start favourites to knock Celtic out but anyone who has watched them of late will know how hard it has been for them to score goals. The longer it goes without taking the lead the more nervous things will get.

Still, the main thing I hope for is that they all give everything to these games. No thoughts of Serie A, no excuses, just a full blooded battle to make it to the quarter-finals. One team through looks most likely, two would be great and three would be exceptional.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A breathtaking dummy

Nice to see Alex Del Piero back to his best - even if it is in Serie B. This is one of the best dummies I have seen in a while...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Only in Italy.... Or maybe not!

So it would appear the Italian disease is not only Italian after all. The Seville coach was knocked unconscious by a bottle during a derby game last night. One can only presume the blanket coverage given to incidents in Italy will be duplicated for La Liga.

Games behind closed doors, clubs forced to play at neutral venues and a suspension of fixtures are sure to ensue. Or is that only in Italy? Probably.

On the field of play, a dodgy penalty wasn't enough to get Milan three points on Wednesday. Inter finally were held to a draw, by UDINESE! The only top team to make progress were Lazio who now must harbour serious hopes of catching Palermo in third spot. Intriguing times.