Friday, December 21, 2007

Once more into battle

Well, I don't think the Champions League draw could have come out much more tricky for the remaining Italian trio. Two battles with England and a duel with Real Madrid lie in store. Whoever progresses will have to do it the hard way.

Inter will get their chance to show if they really have European pedigree with a trip to Anfield. All evidence suggests to me that the Nerazzurri should be good enough to beat the Reds. However, they have let us down so often in the past I don't have as much faith as I should. Still, now is the time for Bobby Mancini to show his side are truly top class.

The other side of the city also comes to England. I think the Rossoneri against Arsenal clash is one of the most appetising of the last 16. Wenger's side like to play in a certain way and it is a style which I reckon will suit Milan. I expect a lot of goals from this one and it will be a stern test of the World Club Champions. It would be nice to put the Premiership table-toppers in their place once more.

Finally, Roma take on Lazio's conquerors Real Madrid. It would be sweet if the Giallorossi could pull off another tactical masterstroke like they did against Lyon last year. They will be up against it but, as we know, on their day they can outwit anyone.

Oh, and Fiorentina landed Rosenborg in the UEFA Cup. Getting one of the "drop down" teams seems harsh for finishing second in your group. However, if they had had to pick one it might have been the Norwegians. A strong side, certainly, but not unbeatable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A grand derby in store

With Milan winning the World Club thingy at the weekend and Inter blasting all before them in Serie A what a cracking game we are promised on Sunday afternoon.

In the red-and-black corner the reigning European, World and Intergalactic champions. In the blue-and-black, those "Martian" champions of Italy. The Rossoneri might be a bit jet-lagged but it should still be a classic encounter. It is one which Ancelotti's men have to win if they harbour any hopes of an improbable comeback in Serie A.

Can Milan seriously trouble Mancini's masterful side? It really depends how committed they are to the game. On their day they are as good as anyone but how much is their heart in the fight for the Scudetto? I guess we will find out at the weekend.

Inter had their traditional stroll past Cagliari at the weekend. They were made to work hard in the first half but once they got ahead it was easy going. Elsewhere, Alex Del P impressed with a couple of breakaway goals which showed an old cynic like me that he might still have some life left in him. And Udinese lost which helps boost Fiorentina's chances of getting into the Champions League.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

May the force be with them...

It can't have escaped your notice that something extraordinary is about to happen. I wasn't around in the 1950s but I can only compare it to the astonishing events when the mighty Magyars humbled England on their own patch and forced them to admit they might have something to learn from overseas football.

In some ways, however, this is even more astounding. In their search for a new manager the English FA appear to be heading towards not just a foreigner but, whisper it, an Italian.

I know they have already had a Straniero at the helm but that was a Swede. A northern European - cool, calm and essentially dull (except for the off-the-pitch stuff). Now they have turned to the Dark Side in their possible recruitment of Fabio Capello (pictured).

It must stick in many a craw, surely, to turn to the home of corruption, cheating and defensive football? Is their desperation to win so deep? Clearly it is.

I find it an intriguing prospect. There is no doubt Don Fabio is in Europe's elite managerial bracket - one of the top four or five on the continent. He will certainly have no truck with any primadonna antics. And he might even harness the power of Wayne Rooney as he did Antonio Cassano.

But how has he prepared for all the extra-curricular rubbish? In Spain and Italy he suffered plenty of criticism but it was always based on football. What will he think of having the prying eyes of the tabloids on his wife, children, and anyone he speaks to in the street?

He is the ultimate pragmatist and from a footballing point of view his interest in the job makes a lot of sense. He can only do better than Steve McClaren. He gets to work with a decent group of players who have underachieved. And he gets a lot of money.

Whether it makes such sense from a lifestyle point of view I'm not so sure. He will have to conquer a lot of prejudice if he hopes to be a success. Italian football carries all the 'baggage' mentioned above in many English eyes. A lot of fans don't want him. I know Capello will not care but every time a result doesn't go his way he can expect to have a lot of old stereotypes dragged out.

In many ways, I still don't want to believe the deal will go ahead. At the last minute Capello will pull back his hand and thumb his nose. Or someone will snap their fingers in front of the FA and they will wake from their trance with a look on their face like they had just bitten into an onion. But I just saw Fabio getting off a plane to meet Brian Barwick. And there wasn't a light sabre anywhere in sight.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

And the good news is...

While Inter's multinational mix delivered another hammering at the weekend to march towards the Scudetto there were some things to warm the Italian football fan's heart. Here were a few of my best bits...

1) The first half performance of Amauri in Palermo's win over Fiorentina. His ball through to Miccoli for the opening goal was outstanding. If he is still available for Italy, Donadoni should seriously take a look. He would make a better Toni replacement than Lucarelli. (The downside to all this is that the Viola got beat but at least the team performance was better than of late).

2) Udinese v Parma. Some magic from Antonio Cassano suggested he was back to his crazy best. He got booked, won a penalty and set up a goal. All in day's work. There were also fireworks from Fabio Quagliarella which could be encouraging for the Azzurri too.

3) Nicola Pozzi. With Empoli in dire straits the young striker produced the goods in thrilling style with all four goals in a 4-1 victory. He was strong in the air, quick on the turn and a little bit lucky. A winning combination if ever there was one.

Also, Rolando Bianchi scored for Manchester City. Not bad for just a couple of days of action.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Show us your worth

I was out in Italy at the weekend as Fiorentina were overwhelmed by Inter. I wasn't at the game but I watched the Viola get outclassed from a little bar in Tuscany. The following day, the Nerazzurri fans were busy crowing about just how good they were.

I had a few observations to make. Undoubtedly, they were streets ahead of the boys in purple but, then again, so they should be. They have had their pick of Serie A players for the last couple of years and have reserves that the Artemio Franchi team could only dream of.

Their fans, too, have slipped into an arrogance that ill-befits them. Until such times as this team ALSO wins in Europe it will have a question mark over it. So now is the time for them to deliver a Champions League crown - it has only been 40 years since the last. Or had their fans forgotten?

Elsewhere, Italy landed Romania, Holland and France for the European Championships. I was going to write something about the ludicrous seeding system. However, I think the group makes that comment more eloquently than I could.