Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Don't forget me

I am off for a few days away from the blog. I thought I would leave my favourite strike of the past few days to remind you of me.

Well, OK, he has got a bit more skill, hair and money than I do. But so what?

Back soon...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now I'm a believer

I must admit that at the outset of this season - and for the opening weeks - I had my doubts about Juve. They rode their luck in a few games and didn't look all that sharp. But after their demolition of Palermo on Sunday night they look like they might be the real deal.

To some degree, I couldn't make up my mind if Juve were so good or the Sicilians were so bad. The Rosanero were a shadow of their old, aggressive, exciting selves. They were tame in the extreme but I think they were outbattled by the Bianconeri. Men like Nocerino (I like to call him Ball Buster as I am sure the football club Nocerina once had a group of Ultras with that name), Nedved, Zanetti and Camoranesi (yes, really) gave them hell.

Are Juve really good enough to take the Scudetto? I am starting to think that if Inter and Roma progress in the Champions League they just might be. The Turin giants only have the league to focus on. Hell, if Udinese can be up there challenging then surely La Vecchia Signora is in with a shout. Next week's trip to Milan will tell us a lot.

In other news, Italy landed Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro for the World Cup 2010 qualifiers. It could have been better (ie Group 2) but it could have been worse. Bulgaria and the Irish will be tough on their home soil but all teams should be beatable in Italy. Got to get Euro 2008 out of the way first...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Imagine the conversation

I have read some daft stories in my time but this one tops the lot. Marcello Lippi turns down Birmingham! "This is not a stunt - it is genuine!" insisted the club co-owner. It gives me great pleasure to produce a transcript of the telephone call.

Brummie City Person: Hello, can I speak to Mr Lippy?

Marcello Lippi: Yes, speaking.

BCP: I understand you are out of work at the moment.

ML: Well, yes, apart from the odd bit of punditry for Sky.

BCP: Are you in the market for a return to management?

ML: Might be, depends who is speaking.

BCP: Oh yes, sorry, I represent an English Premiership club.

ML: Mmmm. Interesting, which one? Manchester United? Chelsea? Liverpool?

BCP: No, not exactly.

ML: Look, Signore, I have got a big cigar waiting for me! What club do you represent?

BCP (whispers): Birmingham City...

ML: What? Speak up.

BCP (mumbles): Birmingham City...

ML: What? Bird in hand shitty?

BCP (shouts): OK! OK! Birmingham City.

The line goes dead.

Who do you fancy?

While Italy strolled past the Faroe Islands there were other countries with bigger games to play on Wednesday night. Most of the big guns who needed to get a result got what they needed. Except, of course, for England. Oh disappointed Scots rejoice!

That Steve McLaren's men had fought back to 2-2 will only make it a more bitter pill. After all the jubilation about the help they got from Israel they couldn't even manage to get a point off a team that had already qualified. No doubt there will be calls for the manager to be hung, drawn and quartered at the very least. All of which will, once again, mask their shortcomings as a team.

So the final line-up for Euro 2008 is as follows. Austria, Switzerland, Greece and probably Holland in pot one. Italy, Croatia, Germany and the Czech Republic in pot two. Romania, Portugal and Sweden in pot three where England should also have been. Presumably France will be promoted into that bracket. That would leave Poland, Spain, Turkey and Russia in the last bucket.

It leaves a wide range of possibilities open. Clearly Holland would be the one to avoid in the top tier, while Turkey, Russia or Poland might be alright from the bottom drawer. However, as we all know, maybe Italy are best getting the toughest draw possible. So bring on the French again!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Call it what you will, but not a robbery...

Well, on a wet and grey Glasgow night, the Azzurri got the job done. It wasn't always pretty and there were a few shaky moments but they showed a lot of guts and "grinta" to record a first ever win on Scottish soil. Shame it had to knock the Tartan Army out as well and put them Frenchies through.

The mission could hardly have started better when Luca Toni (right) poked the ball home in a little over a minute. The big man does not get all the credit he deserves for just how skillful he is. Watch that finish again, he scooped the ball into the net in some style.

Much of the rest of the game revolved around the match officials. Italy had a lengthy spell in control as Scotland recovered from the shock of the early strike. Then Antonio Di Natale had a goal ruled out for offside which should have stood. At 2-0, I reckon, the game would have been pretty much over.

In the second half, however, Scotland struck back. They were certainly pushing hard but the manner in which the goal came saw the officials in the spotlight again. The Scottish press has said Barry Ferguson "may have looked a shade offside" or the goal had a "hint of offside" about it. Let's be frank here, he was a good half-yard offside and the assistant referee had the benefit of a line right across the pitch to help him judge. In exactly the same position as he had ruled out Di Natale's strike, he got it wrong again.

In fairness, I also struggled to see how Chiellini's shoulder barge on Hutton ended up being a free-kick to Italy. In the last minute it led to Panucci's winner. The timing was harsh, but over the game it still made the major error count 2-1 in Scotland's favour. Call it what you will, but not a robbery.

Old Mejuto Gonzalez the referee is notoriously inconsistent. The apparently same incident can lead to a foul, a play-on gesture or a yellow card. That is annoying for players, in fact, annoying for everyone. It was certainly a shame that he was in charge.

I do think the better team went through but I would have rather seen France go out rather than Scotland. I hope now Alex McLeish can build on what his team showed last night. And, above all, I hope they are not in Italy's group again when the World Cup draw is made next week...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fit to burst

I've been around a long time but I don't remember Scotland ever building up to a football game like this for a while. Maybe those play-off games with England or the meeting at Euro '96 but even those I don't recall having this intensity of coverage. Maybe it is because it is against Italy it has made more of an impression on me.

I think the whole country might explode by 4.59pm on Saturday.

That's the great thing football can do, the flip side to all the rubbish that has been associated with it recently. One way or another it will end in tears, joy or maybe in suspense on Saturday evening.

My main hope is that the Azzurri are as up for it as Scotland. If they are, I believe they will get at the very least a draw. If they are not, they might run into trouble. It will be a tense day when I expect to receive about 100 texts at full time. Whatever the outcome, I will try to take it on the chin. I have had plenty of highs and lows following Italia.

But, what the hell. Dai, ragazzi, fammi sognare ancora una volta!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Counting down the days

With just a few days to go, a sample of random thoughts on the upcoming Scotland v Italy clash at Hampden.

1) I have seen a few mentions that Donadoni might go against his traditional 4-3-3 and head for a 4-1-4-1 formation. How does that square with his talk of coming for the win? Is he going to err on the side of grafters (Iaquinta, Perrotta, Ambrosini, etc) over the more lightweight skill men (Camoranesi, Palladino etc)?

2) "Italy have never won on Scottish soil" - while this is true there have only been three meetings - and two of them were draws. And the win came in 1965.

3) Is there any real chance of Ukraine beating France and getting us both through?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Grim reading

I always try to keep a sense of humour about my football but this weekend has tested that to the full. The tragic death of a Lazio fan on his way to watch his team against Inter and the resulting acts of violence have thrown Italian football into darkness once again. I sometimes wonder if it can ever find a way out.

Coverage in a lot of sections of the UK media has been superficial at best. I feel that this Sunday's events ought to be distinguished from the death of Filippo Raciti last season in some significant respects. This was not the kind of pre-meditated horror which that incident turned out to be.

By all accounts it appears a tragic accident prompted the unsavoury scenes in Bergamo and Rome. Yes, the skirmishes at the service station in Arezzo were unacceptable but when word got out that a fan had been shot and killed there were large sections of Ultras up and down the country who felt all games should have been suspended. That appears to have been what Atalanta fans wanted and, ultimately, achieved.

The scenes in Rome also had the air of an improvised response to the shooting by the Carabinieri. It was senseless and stupid - without waiting for any kind of explanation - but it was not entirely incomprehensible. The more hardcore Italian fans have been maintaining an uneasy peace with police and it was always likely to take a lot less than this to set things off. And, of course, there are plenty of imbeciles out there who were only looking for an excuse to go out and cause trouble.

Ultimately, the scenes flashed around the world are easy prey for newspapers and television stations happy to continue the Italian football chaos theme. There have been knee-jerk calls for games to be abandoned but this, in truth, would achieve little. Everything which happened on Sunday was either a long way outside any football stadium or prompted by matters which had precious little to do with the game itself. To hold Calcio responsible for that would, I believe, be unfair.

Unfortunately, a bit like a hopeless criminal who keeps getting caught, the sport's previous convictions are likely to be taken into account.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Win it for Liedholm

I am a bit behind the times but have only just caught up with the news that Milan legend Nils Liedholm has passed away at the age of 85. I am not old enough to have seen him play but I remember him as manager of Roma and his name was always linked with one of the great Rossonero sides.

My favourite story about the Barone - indeed, probably my only story about him - is how his first incomplete pass was greeted at the San Siro. The fans are supposed to have applauded such was their amazement at seeing one of his passes go astray.

So the current team owe it to his memory to go out and thrash Shakthar Donetsk tonight. And Roma owe it to him to go out and perform similar heroics when they face Sporting Lisbon tomorrow. Remember, he will be watching in judgment.

Addio, Barone.

Title remains in the open

Grazie Juve. With a battling draw on Sunday night they stopped Inter setting sail for an easy Scudetto. The Bianconeri might not have the quality and strength in depth of Mancini's men but they surely showed a lot of balls. They were worth their point in the end which kept the Serie A fight wide open.

Sneaking up on the rails are Fiorentina. Nobody really speaks of them as serious title contenders and that is how they like it. But a 1-0 away win to Lazio tells the story of a team increasing in maturity. I think they will struggle with UEFA and league duty but they look set for a great showdown with Inter next month.

Roma lived up to their "bella ma sprecona" (beautiful but wasteful) crown. Two goals up away to Empoli they should have buried them in goals (Vucinic the main culprit). Instead, they left the door open and two wonder goals by Vannucchi and Giovinco levelled the match. I still believe the Giallorossi can overhaul Inter thanks to an easier set of fixtures in the weeks ahead. But they have to kill their opponents off.

Oh, well, back to the Champions League watch tonight.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bobo in Nazionale?

Well, the big man has admitted it. Bobo Vieri would love to squeeze his big Aussie butt back into an Azzurri strip. The question is, should we let him?

After scoring the winner against Napoli last night our Christian soldier said he did have an eye on the Nazionale. Now, my first reaction was simply to laugh. But, on reflection, is it so ridiculous? Is he a worse option than, say, Lucarelli or Quagliarella? Personally, I would like him to have more games under his narrowing belt but could it be worth a gamble? As an understudy to Toni we could do a lot worse.

In other news, the much maligned Mancini and Gilardino were heroes on Wednesday. The Roma man helped to win the derby while Gila was inspirational in the 5-0 hammering of Samp. If he keeps this form up he will get more than 20 Serie A goals for the Rossoneri this year. Who will the fans boo then?

Inter and Juve both won too setting up a mouthwatering Sunday night clash in Turin. The Derby of Italy is back in style. Sit back, pour yourself a good glass of Barbera and watch the sparks fly.