Monday, April 30, 2007

Two sides of a city

Sunday night's party for Inter eventually went as planned but not without Empoli causing them a few scares. The Tuscans were well up for the game and highly unlucky to go in at half-time a goal down. They equalised in the second period but that seemed to get the Nerazzurri angry and in the end they dismissed their visitors' challenge. Just the same, a UEFA Cup place would be just reward for Empoli this term. At the end of the game, for those who waited, we were treated to the Marco Materazzi karaoke. It was strangely gripping television as he seemed to just go through the Inter team and sing out their names in a dreadfully off-tune manner.

Of course, there is tension on the other side of the city too. Could the Rossoneri steal some of Inter's limelight by recording an amazing result against Man Utd? The English side put down their marker with a storming comeback against Everton while Milan edged past Torino. There is cause to believe that Milan have hit about their best form of the season but whether it will be enough remains to be seen. It would rival anything they have achieved before if they did get there.

I wanted to post something about the Rome derby too but it seems that fear was the main winner there. Neither side wanted to lose and compromise what has been a good season for both teams. I have recorded the game but don't know if there was enough in it to give me an incentive to watch the action...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Boring, boring England?

After the fun and games of Tuesday night it was more mundane fare as the might of England went head to head on Wednesday. After five goals at Old Trafford it was a 1-0 to the Chelsea affair at Stamford Bridge. To be fair, I only managed a slice of the first half but the chances were few and far between. Maybe it proves that these are the two most solid and well-equipped teams left in the competion. But I hope not.

My sneaking suspicion is that Chelsea will make it through this time. I know Liverpool have a good pedigree in Europe but I see Mourinho's men as stronger all round. The longer it stays 0-0 at Anfield, the more likely the Blues are to progress. And then hopefully lose to Milan in the final.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Gattuso Factor

All I asked was a result which left Milan with a chance of qualification so I suppose I should be happy. That wasn't exactly how I felt at the 91st minute but, after a bad night's sleep (I kept seeing that Brocchi bungle) you have to say 3-2 away gives the Rossoneri a chance.

From a neutral point of view it was a cracking game. The usual Dida blunder gave Man Utd the lead but, unlike Roma, they did not fold and used all their experience (and an inspired Kaka) to go 2-1 ahead. To my mind, this was when Milan were playing their best stuff and early in the second half could have grabbed a third goal. Instead, Rino Gattuso limped off and fatigue set in which handed the initiative to the home side. An equaliser also put extra spring in Cristiano Ronaldo's stepovers but I think a 2-2 draw would have been a fairer result.

Still, credit to Man Utd for pushing right until the end and getting the winner. It should make for a cracking return in the San Siro. If Kaka stays in this form, if we get 90 minutes from Rino and if Gilardino gets some kind of support it could go our way. Nesta, by the way, was outstanding, I thought, back to his very best. A great Euro night and still a chance to stop the nightmare - an all English final.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Too many issues to handle

It was the kind of weekend that provided topics of conversation by the bucketload in Serie A and beyond. Let's kick off, however, with the best stuff - a cracking match between Palermo and Parma. The Emiliani have been resurgent under Claudio Ranieri and fought tooth and nail against the struggling Sicilians. The lead switched back and forward with alarming regularity, Di Michele had a candidate for miss of the season, Palermo had a man sent off and the diminutive virtuosi - Morfeo, Rossi and Gasbarroni - had a field day. There are three names who it is worth paying the admission for alone. Felt a bit sorry for Palermo at the end as they were jeered by their fans but Parma are fighting brilliantly for survival.

I should probably have kicked off with Inter's Scudetto win but, for months, it has only been a matter of "when" not "if". We all have our take on just how much this title is worth. Certainly the elimination of Juve and handicap to Milan played a big part. Still, up until defeat by Roma you could not have asked the Nerazzurri to do any more. They will want to prove their credentials by winning again next year. Are they up to it? I remain to be convinced.

Finally, Milan go into battle for Italian honour against Man Utd on Tuesday. The Rossoneri have hit a run of form in Serie A in contrast to their opponents. A little bit of restored pride must be top of the agenda after the Roma debacle. I don't know if the old boys can do it, but I so hope so.

As a little extra, great smash and grab win for Fiorentina over Lazio. The Champions League may be gone but even UEFA Cup qualification would be amazing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rinaldi shoots, Rinaldi scores

I had always hoped my son might be the first Rinaldi to score in the Premiership but no such luck. Our Brazilian cousin Douglas Rinaldi got off the mark for Watford against Blackburn on Wednesday night.

On an unrelated note entirely, well done to Roma for holding up Inter's Scudetto party. Weren't the Nerazzurro fans pathetic jeering their team after the game. How quickly they have adopted the attitude more suited to teams which win the league every year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Scudetto Stroll and Euro 2012

Well, tonight's the night for Inter. Almost certainly they will grab their first Scudetto won on the field of play for nearly 20 years. But how much, exactly, is it worth? One of their main rivals was taken out of the league while another was penalised several points. In addition they were able to cherry pick the best players from their stricken opponents. They have been ruthless and they have played some good football but it is widely recognised that it will only be next year that they can truly call themselves champions.

Elsewhere, Euro 2012 has gone to Poland and Ukraine ahead of Italy. Who knows whether recent violence cost the bid dearly. I suppose it is grudgingly nice for new nations to get a major competition. Certainly we have had our chances. Just the same it would be nice to see some of our stadia get an upgrade in the not too distant future.

And what is this about 100 milioni for Ronaldinho? Has Berlusconi gone cuckoo?

Monday, April 16, 2007

At last someone goes for Inter

After a season of largely watching Inter stroll to the title it was both nice and surprising to see Palermo have a right good go at them at the weekend. It was a real turnaround for the Rosanero who have been in freefall since losing Amauri to injury. They were back to their best in a first half which saw them go 2-0 up and have what looked like a perfectly good third chalked off for a dubious foul.

Credit to the Nerazzurri, too, however. They turned up the heat in the second half and when they got one back they were always going to get two. It was just a surprise that they didn't push on to get the winner. Perhaps they had Wednesday's clash with Roma in mind.

The Palermo performance makes the Champions League placings situation a little less clear. I had presumed they would drop out making way for, most probably, Milan. However, it now looks like Inter, Roma and Lazio could yet be joined by the Sicilians. That might yet leave the Rossoneri looking at the UEFA Cup along with the likes of Fiorentina and Empoli. So, while the Scudetto might be over by Wednesday night there are still a few issues to be deciced.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Solo contro gli inglesi

Well, there was some medicine to aid recovery from the Roma disaster. Milan travelled to Germany and overcame Bayern Munich to ensure they are now the only team that can prevent an English victory in the Champions League. It will be the focus of my prayers between now and the semi-finals.

It was all about experience on Wednesday night. They might be old but, by God, the Rossoneri have been there, done it and got exclusive selling rights on the T-Shirts when it comes to European competition. Of all the Italian sides they are the ones who have let us down least on the continental stage. Juve, Inter and everyone else don't stand comparison.

Carlo Ancelotti got the tactics perfect and soaked up a little early pressure before old chubby thighs, Clarence Seedorf, produced a brilliant low strike. Then he threaded a backheel to Pippo Inzaghi - dubbed the King of the Divers by the Germans - who finished in style (he was offside, but hey, who cares?).

The old legs did struggle towards the end as Bayern threw everything - including Oliver Kahn's hairpiece - in their direction. Still, Nesta, Maldini and Co held firm to get through to face Manchester United. I don't know if that is a blessing really, given the pounding they gave Roma. However, you have got to be in it to win it and this would be the sweetest ever triumph for Milan if they could see off the supposed might of the Premiership.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I'm really superstitious

Me and Stevie Wonder share a superstitious streak. Given what happened after my last post I want to knock it off top spot sharpish. So here is a gratuitous posting about anything other than last night's events in the Manchester area.

It really is the last stand of the old boys tonight. My feeling is that Milan will have to get ahead early because they ran out of steam terribly in the first leg. They need one of their strikers to find some kind of form and then be able to play it on the break. I just hope that Bayern don't rattle the goals in like that English mob.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's like deja vu all over again...

I have been away from civilisation for so long that this is the first chance I have had to post on recent events in Italy and abroad. My in-laws are great hosts but their dial-up internet connection is too slow to make blogging a possibility.

In any case, maybe it was best that I had some time to meditate on this, my 100th post here, which will touch upon a familiar theme. Namely, the perception of Italy and Italian football in large sections of the English media. It is something of a personal crusade, as you are no doubt aware by now.

It all kicked off on Tuesday night in Rome when there was trouble between police and Man Utd supporters. Plenty of column inches were spent telling us how "heavy-handed" the Italian police were and then citing numerous previous incidents - including Anders Frisk being struck by a coin. I was watching the game in a pub on a small Scottish island and was the only one cheering Roma's goals. The general consensus seemed to be that "those Italians were at it again".

The following day's press coverage was largely laughable. Ignoring any thought of blame on the Manchester side it pretty much pointed the finger at Roma and Italy in general. A lot of nonsense about Raciti, mopeds being thrown in the San Siro and Ultras was written.

24 hours later, however, the mood changed. This time it was Seville and the Tottenham fans. Maybe there was an inkling that a common theme was emerging - English supporters abroad, rather than heavy-handed law and order. Both should shoulder the blame, not one exclusively.

The worrying thing, for me, is that there is a similar air of denial to the one which first circulated when hooliganism surfaced in the 1970s and 1980s. I hope it does not take another tragedy to get everyone to get their act together. There is no doubt there IS an issue about policing these games but there are also problems attached to several thousand English football fans travelling abroad together. I always imagine it like bumping into the biggest Club 18-30 holiday you have ever seen. At best, loud and offensive.

So please, spare us the sanctimonious headlines if there is trouble in Valencia when Chelsea visit tonight. No doubt we will also be on thug watch when Roma come to Old Trafford. The simple fact, I hope and pray, is that I can never remember there being any trouble when Italian fans travel abroad. Long may it continue.

I wish this post could have concentrated on matters on the field of play - where I will be watching intently in the days ahead. But, sometimes I feel a degree of balance is called for in the coverage of other matters - even if that means taking the opposite view to create debate rather than facile reactions based on stereotype and misinformation.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Totti tells it like it is

The usual pre-match wind-ups have started early after Alex Ferguson (accidentally) left Francesco Totti off his list of danger men for the upcoming Roma v Man Utd game. The Giallorosso skipper responded with some fine lines. Hopefully, he will live up to his statement that he would make Sir Alex remember his name.

He looked in fine form - as the whole Roma team did - in the weekend draw with Milan. But it was his lines on the Premiership in general that I loved. It reminded me of Bobo Vieri when he said he would like to play in England - when he wanted to collect his pension.

"I've never liked English football," said France'. "Even if there are some great players there. I don't like England either because the weather is gloomy."

Take that Fergie! Time for a Totti tripletta...