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...