Thursday, May 31, 2007

Six on the brain

Is there no rest for the Italy fan? Clearly not as the Azzurri head out on an away double-header that will have a big say on their Euro qualification. On paper, the Faroe Islands and Lithuania should be the two most straightforward overseas trips of the group. However, it would be foolish to ever take things for granted.

That said, anything less than back to back wins would be disaster. France play Ukraine this weekend which will go some way to deciding which one of the two emerges as top of the group contenders (probably France). While Scotland are next to play the Faroes and must be in line for another three points. That makes twin triumphs the only option for Donadoni and company.

It looks like Ambrosini and Zambrotta will miss the Faroes game but there should be enough cover there. The bigger concern is the bumpy pitch in Lithuania and a team which is stuffy to say the least. The longer it goes 0-0 the more cause for concern.

The squad does not look the greatest we have ever put together. No Toni, Totti, Nesta, etc. Still, it ought to be good enough. The six points would give a much healthier look to the qualification table.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

So long, and thanks for all the goals

It looks like the end of an era for Florence - a short-lived but highly prolific era. We'll call it the Toni Age. A total of 49 goals in two seasons and then off to pastures new.

In truth, it comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. The big striker has never stayed long anywhere and it was a miracle the Viola kept hold of him after last season's Calciopoli verdict. A team that should have been in the Champions League found itself fighting against relegation. It is to his credit that he remained to help his team out.

Now Fiorentina have let it be known that he is free to move on but there will be none of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the departures of, say, Baggio and Batistuta. They stayed much longer and influenced the team more deeply. Also, the Tuscan side finds itself in the relatively healthy position of having Mutu, Pazzini and Reginaldo to replace him. None of them are of his stature, but still, it is not a disaster.

So, I say, let him go. And if he happens to come back to the Franchi, whatever club it might be with, I reckon he should be greeted with applause. Not jeered like the sorry bunch in Palermo do. He did a great job for Fiorentina, but let's move on.

Also, just a quick mention of poor Chievo, dumped to Serie B. In the end, those donkeys flew too close to the sun. They defied the odds to stay up so long and entertain us so much - particularly in their first few seasons. It will be a hard fight for them to get back up but they will be fondly remembered by anyone who watched them play.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Place your bets now please

The final day of the Italian season can mean only one thing - watch out for the dodgy results. In the normal course of affairs you would expect Siena to struggle against Lazio, Reggina to have their work cut out against Milan and Empoli to give Parma a tough time. But these are not ordinary circumstances.

A total of five teams could make the drop from Serie A - Chievo, Catania, Parma, Reggina and Siena. But the last three have the luxury of knowing they are playing teams with nothing left to fight for. And we all know how that usually pans out. Reggina and Siena must win their games while a draw would suffice for Parma. What price those being the outcomes of these matches? Not very high according to the bookies.

The situation becomes more intriguing, of course, because Chievo and Catania go head to head this weekend. With the other three likely to be gifted their salvation, it is likely to be a fight to the death. I have had my suspicions, since the Raciti tragedy, that Serie A would like to get rid of the Sicilians - so keep an eye out for some pro-Chievo action.

However, maybe something will slip from the script. Milan are likely to rest all their Champions League heroes but their reserves might be up for the fight against Reggina. Although, of all the teams in the dogfight, I think they most deserve to be saved. Parma have earned their place in Serie A under Claudio Ranieri and opponents Empoli have already shown themselves to be quite obliging. Lazio might be the only fly in the ointment against Siena. But why should they be so nasty?

My forecast, for what it's worth? Reggina and Siena to win, Parma and Empoli play out a draw and Chievo beat Catania sending them to Serie B along with Messina and Ascoli. You won't get much of a price on it but its a four-timer that could well come up...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The perfect moment

It wasn't beautiful but, be honest, we didn't really want that. Milan were beautiful in Istanbul and look where it got them. This time around it was enough just to win, it didn't matter how. And who better when that is called for than Pippo Inzaghi?

The game set out on a course that was worryingly familiar and seemed to be going to Liverpool's plan. Once again, without creating a lot themselves, they were able to smother the creative players in the Rossonero side and make them rush their passes and lose the ball with alarming regularity. It seemed that Carlo Ancelotti's men could not break free.

But, of course, we hadn't counted on that man Super Pippo. A ricochet off his shoulder (is there any part of his anatomy he hasn't scored with?) and the game changed direction. Liverpool were unable this time to raise a grandstand reaction and instead continued with their aggressive but ultimately toothless play. It was crying out for that man to put the game out of reach. When he did, it was in greater style.

A neat through ball from Kaka, the offside trap beaten and Reina rounded. The ball seemed to take an age to trundle across the line but the job, we thought, was done. There was the worry of a late Kuyt goal (offside, anyone?) but this time it didn't matter. The cup was rightfully Milan's. Seven times champions and a fitting coronation for Paolo Maldini.

The night in Athens joins a string of Rossonero legendary games. Sure, it was an ugly victory. But that doesn't mean we have to love it any less...

No words required

You all know what I am thinking today but this link says it better than I ever could.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ancelotti speaks the truth

There has been much coverage of Carlo Ancelotti "ridiculing" Liverpool in his latest statements in the build-up to the Champions League final. Leaving aside the fact that Carletto is far too cautious to put himself out on such a limb, wasn't he just setting out the facts as they are?

His first comment was that Liverpool were the least technically gifted of the three English semi-finalists. How can you argue with that, really? The league table surely tells its own story - they were streets behind Man Utd and Chelsea. They can clearly raise their game but, on balance, are inferior to both of those sides.

Then he said they did not play like an English side. Again, that seems a fair comment does it not given the number of foreigners they field and have a Spanish manager? Their cagey approach is not the traditional one of English sides.

Finally, he said he would rather have played Man Utd as they play their game and let you play yours. That hardly seems controversial at all. Still, anything to stir things up before the final, I suppose.

Just a quick note of thanks to Espanyol and Seville for producing an entertaining UEFA Cup final last night. I know I often criticise the other leagues around Europe but they brought a bit of credibility back to a competition that has struggled in recent times. I still don't like the format but it produced a good final between two decent (if not great) sides.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Land of Do As You Please

Aside from being the title of one of my favourite albums, this would also appear to be the guiding principle of the world of English football at the moment. Come with me on a journey through a few sports stories of recent times and imagine if they had taken place in Corruption Ridden Italy (copyright UK tabloids 1963-present day).

Scenario one: A Serie A side, let's call them Prosciutto Ovest, signs up two Argentine internationals, let's call them Carlo Bevez and Jacky Mascheroni. It subsequently emerges that they remained in the hands of a third party who could decide whether they played or not. The Italian federation is called in to investigate and has the option of inflicting a points penalty - effectively relegating Prosciutto Ovest (nickname "The Spanners"). Instead, it decides on a hefty fine on new owner Magnus Eggbertson which - since he is worth a fortune - he accepts rather than fighting the decision.

Scenario two: Two sides in the top division agree to a loan deal for top Irish goalkeeper Howard Tim. The deal then becomes permanent but when the two teams meet later in the season he does not feature in the line-up. His new manager, Davide Moi, confesses it was down to an agreement with his old club. However, once again, after investigation, the Italian federation decides there is no case to answer.

Scenario three: A couple of teams are virtually relegated from Serie B and Serie C and facing administration. Realising the points penalty they face for such an action, both sides decide to render the penalty useless by taking their punishment before the end of the old season rather than the start of the new. Another piece of brilliant Italian skulduggery, I'm sure you agree.

Of course, if these had really happened in CRI (see above) what would really have happened was that Prosciutto Ovest would have been deducted points and relegated. In the second case, the phone calls between the two clubs would have been spattered all over the papers with a sporting "trial" dragging on for months. Finally, the last two teams would have been sent down to C2 and interregional football respectively. An interesting thought isn't it? Well, maybe not that interesting, but still...

Oh, and well done to Roma for tanking Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia final.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kaka, Seedorf and the Gila monster

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bucharest - add last night to the list of great Milan displays. Awesome from beginning to end and too classy for the mightiest team in the Premiership. What a night.

There were heroes from front to back. Big Nelson Dida redeemed himself from the first leg and anyone who did not believe Nesta was back to his best must surely have been convinced. Oddo was full of marauding magic, Kaladze and Jankulovski extremely solid.

And what to say of the midfield? Gattuso was a model of intense, controlled, rage. His work on Ronaldo was out of this world. And I finally saw what a string of Italy and Milan managers have seen in Ambrosini. He won the ball, gave good passes and helped press forward. As for Pirlo, if there is a player with better vision in the world I have yet to see him.

As for Seedorf - the "old man" - I think he showed his younger opponents a thing or too about how to play in these big games. Scored one, set up another. Outstanding.

Pippo had a quiet night but he helped make space for the exquisite Kaka. Give me a man who puts the ball in the net over a pointless step-over merchant any time.

Finally, the Giant Gila Monster (see below) took his goal with great aplomb. That was brilliant to see. He needed to get that particular monkey off his back - the boy is a natural goalscorer and has been through a tough time of late.

Remember, though, to my mind it is just half time. The Rossoneri have to go on and beat Liverpool in Athens. What a booting that would be for the Premiership.

Italy 10 England 4 - remember that statistic. That's the number of finalists since the Champions League started, I am told. So, tell me, which is the greatest league in the world again?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Manchester United beware...

Thank goodness, in their hour of need, Milan have called in the services of a 1950s B movie star to pep up their attack. To wit, The Giant GILA Monster (pictured)! He is slow, sluggish but strikes with deadly results.

Watch out for his equally scary companions the Amazing Flying Pippo (apparently lightweight he never misses his prey), The Fleet Footed Kaka (his stealth and agility are legendary), The Lesser Spotted Pirlo (deadly, even from distance) and The Growling Gattuso (even his look is fatal).

As long as the Butter Fingered Dida, Wildy Impetuous Oddo and Bad Decision Brocchi don't interfere I can only see one result. Bring on Athens!