Sunday, December 21, 2008

Italy v England - Part I

I have a feeling I may write about this a few times but, just the same, for an Italian Scot the Champions League draw was mind blowing. I knew there was a good chance of Serie A going head to head with the Premiership in at least a couple of ties. But all three? It is a truly awesome prospect.

Certainly, it will answer a lot of questions. Last season there was plenty of crowing about how well the English performed - justifiably so. However, now our boys have a chance to hit back in style. A 3-0 triumph would be too much to hope for, would it?

The pick of the ties is Inter v Man Utd. Italy's undisputed best team for the last few years against Europe's reigning champions. At least the Nerazzurri have Mourinho's supposed hoodoo over Sir Alex on their side. However, having watching Inter in action against Siena, I struggle to hold out that much hope. Still, if anyone from Italy was going to knock out Ronaldo and company it would surely be the Special Uan...

There is plenty of intrigue to the Juve v Chelsea clash. Of course, Claudio Ranieri goes back to the club that ditched him because he could not win enough. How sweet it would be if he could rub their noses in it? I don't know if the Bianconeri are ready for the challenge but they showed against Real they are no pushovers.

Finally, Roma take on Arsenal in a match it is hard to know what to expect from. Which team will show up for either side. In their pomp both teams are irresistible. Unfortunately, they don't always turn up in the best fettle. I liked the fact that the pundits seemed to think Roma were the easiest of the Italian sides to draw. That can only play in their favour.

Forza Serie A!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who is around the corner?

All eyes will be on the urns on Friday as our brave Italian sides look to make progress in Europe. The question is, who would be the best teams for them to land. Here I make my usual pathetic attempt to forecast what will happen.

There has to be a good chance that Inter go English. Either that or they might land Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Porto. My natural inclination would be that the Portuguese would be the best draw. However, a shot at Man Utd or Liverpool might do them good.

On paper, Roma and Juve should have a better chance of an easier draw thanks to winning their groups. The fates have thrown the Giallorossi and Real Madrid together plenty of times in the past but they would probably like to dodge them this time - along with Lyon. Villareal, Atletico and Sporting Lisbon look more tasty or even Arsenal. And how about Juve v Chelsea to cap it all off.

Who knows? Friday will have the answers...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Big week in store

Roma, don't mess it up now. The hard work has been done, a glorious victory over Chelsea secured and a revenge mission completed against Cluj. Please, get the point you deserve and need against Bordeaux.

Inter and Juve, don't do it Italian style. Win your last group games to proudly enter the later stages of the Champions League rather than going in with a whimper. I know you don't need a victory or even a point but, just the same, give us something to cheer. (Inter, you owe us on that score. Juve, no pressure, you did great deeds against Real).

And finally Fiorentina, my little Fiorentina. You may be out of the CL but how about setting the record straight in the UEFA Cup? Last season's elimination to Rangers still sticks in the craw. It might be a meagre consolation but make sure you don't mess it up against Steaua...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pretty, precise and pointless

I like to think I am more open minded than some of my more extremist relations. My first love will always be Italian football but I am willing to look at other options. So, when people keep raving about Arsene Wenger's baby Gunners, it is only natural that I would have a look.

Unfortunately for them (or for me), I picked the night they walked into a brick wall in the form of Burnley. Adolescent Arsenal started the game full of hormonal vigour but when they got clean through on the keeper a major problem emerged. They couldn't actually stick the ball in the net.

Credit the home goalkeeper, a man who looks like he swallowed Angelo Peruzzi whole. He made some fine saves but some of the shooting was fairly feeble. Having missed their opportunities, the boys from the Emirates were made to pay.

I read somewhere recently (I think Champions magazine) that this team will win the Champions League by 2016 (that's Arsenal, not Burnley). But on this evidence I have my doubts. It looked like the youngsters lost heart and were often out-muscled by solid, hard-working professionals. It all sounds reminiscent of Emmanuel Adebayor's recent admission that the team couldn't be arsed against lower level opposition (I paraphrase slightly).

That, it seems to me, is Arsenal's biggest problem. They seem to believe that teams should lie down before their beautiful football - but they don't. Instead, they fight them by every means possible. Maybe this new generation will have the toughness for the battle but, from what they showed on Tuesday, it was far from evident.

Anyway, enough of this English stuff. I feel like Udinese tonight! Udinese tonight!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Waking the dead

Why did it take three goals conceded to wake Milan from their slumber on Sunday night? The Rossoneri were bossed out of the game for most of the match at Palermo. They only started to push their pink opponents back when the fixture was way beyond them. Don't they realise there is a Scudetto there to be won?

It was so lacklustre from Carlo Ancelotti's men without Kaka. Clarence Seedorf tried his best but they were crushed by the best Palermo performance of the season. Fabrizio Miccoli sparkled, Fabio Liverani pulled the strings and big Mo Carrozzieri looked unbeatable at the back. Not to mention some brilliant saves by Marco Amelia. Hats off to Palermo for a great display but, really, was this the best Milan could muster?

Elsewhere, Inter continue to win without really putting their stamp on the championship. They are now six points clear but have yet to look totally convincing. They were too strong for Juve but then they lost at home to Panathinaikos. It is starting to appear the old conundrums of the Mancini days have not been resolved by Mourinho.

Finally, Roma's revival continued thanks to an impressive second half against Fiorentina. I thought my boys were going to do something after a decent first 45 minutes but they fell back as the game went on. There are still too many elementary mistakes from the Viola to become real title contenders. The Giallorossi, on the other hand, look like they could be set for one of their famous winning streaks. However, they must have let the leaders get too big a gap already.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Feel my pain

Fiorentina tumbled out of the Champions League - not through lack of effort but rather through lack of clinical finishing in front of goal. They lost at home to Lyon in a game which underlined their main failing in Europe - not turning their chances into goals.

It was a good game and the French were a good team but I felt the Viola were worth at least a draw. The trouble is they shunned opportunities with too much regularity. Zdravko Kuzmanovic, in particular, hit one shot nearer to the corner flag than the goal when put clean through.

It is a skill which Fiorentina have lacked all season. They can put the opposition under pressure for long spells but (apart from the second half against Udinese) fail to turn it into goals. Against a sharp finishing side like Lyon it was always going to spell trouble.

So, there is only the UEFA left to play for. It seems a little hollow. However, until we get more experienced and battle-hardened in the Champs League it is probably about our level. Unless we lose to Bucharest, of course, in which case there is nothing...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Juve - the Real deal?

It is never easy for those of a purple persuasion to write about Juventus without bias. The old enemy has caused us so much hurt over the years that it is impossible to put to one side. Any sort of dispassionate analysis becomes difficult.

However, I think it is fair to ask the question - having come through their mini-crisis - just how good are the Bianconeri? Their fans have lurched from despair to downright delirium in the past few weeks. Back to back wins over Real Madrid and a massive league recovery have put some of the old swagger into their stride. Heck, they're nearly as loathsome as they used to be.

It is hard, of course, to dislike Claudio Ranieri. He is such an amiable chap that it is impossible to grudge him his success. His critics brand him too nice to succeed. That may be true. At the moment, however, he is doing a pretty good job with a team which - I would argue - is not really all that good.

Yes, Del Piero has found pinpoint precision with his free-kicks. Yes, Pavel Nedved is up for the fight - when was he ever found wanting in that regard? And, yes, big Amauri has proved an astute signing. But what about the likes of Molinaro, De Ceglie, Chiellini, Marchionni, Sissoko and the rest? Don't try to tell me they are world class.

Still, the proof of the pudding is out on the field of play. For all my reticence, Juve are going great guns. If they beat Genoa on Thursday night they could pull level with Inter. Then, no matter how much I might dislike it, the Hunchbacks will be back on top of the belltower where they feel they rightly belong.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Grazie Roma Part 2

We take our pleasure in small victories these days. Italian football has become like the annoying yappy little dog at the heels of the English Super Debt League. We know that the war will be lost, but there is still the odd glorious battle. Like last night in the Stadio Olimpico.

Despite the global millions poured into the game maybe some national characteristics do hold true. Roma were written off, derided and on the ropes. Then they produced their best performance of the season. Remind anyone of Italy 1982 or 2006?

That they defeated Chelsea was truly sweet. That it was Christian Panucci - old "Mad Dog" himself - that scored the opening goal was joyous. That Francesco Totti gritted his teeth to captain the side was admirable. That Mirko Vucinic skipped away from Jon Obi Mikel was a delight.

So many Giallorossi revived their reputations it would be impossible to mention them all. But I thought Matteo Brighi had one of his best ever games for the club. And even the sometimes annoying David Pizarro was in fine form. A night to remember.

Of course, let's not get too carried away by one win. The collective spending power of the We Owe Billions League is unlikely to be defeated in the long-term. However, that doesn't mean we should not savour these tasty little treats every time they come along.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Let's go against Montenegro!

These are the unglamorous games that make a World Cup qualification campaign. Home to Montenegro in October is a far from attractive fixture. Three points, however, would be a major step on the road to defending our title.

The opposition are not without their stars. Young Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina and Roma's Mirko Vucinic are familiar enough faces to Serie A fans. Vucinic in particular will be well known down Lecce way having played there for a while. Italy's record against sides from the former Yugoslavia is also a cause for concern.

Lippi has turned to his "quality" men - Alberto Aquilani and Toto Di Natale - to unlock the visitors' defence. Certainly the Azzurri looked more solid against Bulgaria than they have recently. The time has come, however, for a bit of a show of force and a really convincing victory.

Let's hope, also, that the fans behave themselves. I am getting tired of the reputation Italian supporters are getting around the world. It looks like some eejits have stuffed up my plans to travel to Ireland next year and watch Trap O'Toni's boys take on the Azzurri. We shall see...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tutti per Stefano

There are some times when I curse being trapped in Scotland and not in Tuscany. In fact, that is most of the time. However, the feeling will be particularly acute on Wednesday evening.

Fiorentina's Stadio Artemio Franchi is the venue for a tribute match for former Viola striker Stefano Borgonovo now afflicted by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - also known as Lou Gehrig's disease after the famous baseballer struck by it in the 1930s. He played more than 2,000 consecutive games and was nicknamed "Iron Horse" due to his legendary stamina. He died aged just 41.

ALS seems to disproportionately affect sportsmen - footballers in particular. One recent victim in Serie A was former Genoa defender Gianluca Signorini. Now it has Borgonovo in its grips.

The picture above is of happier times when Baggio and Borgonovo (a duo known simply as BB) were one of the top strike forces in Italy. I wish I could be in Florence tomorrow night, it is bound to be an emotionally-charged evening. Next best is watching it on television and raising a glass to a great footballer and a brave man.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Derby delights

Every neutral and every Milanista will have been delighted to see the Rossoneri edge the derby on Sunday night. It means this Serie A battle remains one of the most open-looking for some time.

I felt it was just reward for the attacking intentions Milan posted by fielding Kaka, Pato and Ronaldinho together. Two of them combined for the game's only goal. It seemed to me Inter were happy to sit back, channel men behind the ball and play on the break. When the game required them to do anything different they could not.

I must admit, I had not expected such a strong start from Lazio or such a bad one for my tip to be a surprise - Bologna. The Laziali have two pacy front men who combine wonderfully well. I suspect the wheels will come off in the long term but probably not this weekend against Lecce. Bologna were a bit unlucky against Napoli but they don't look like much of a side.

Right, Champions League awaits. Forza Gila ancora!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rossoneri roar back

Milan desperately needed a show of strength against high-flying Lazio on Sunday night and boy did they get one. A 4-1 trouncing with some classy goals along the way was just what Berlusconi ordered. There were still some worries at the back but at least the attacking options appeared to have been sorted.

Marco Borriello gives them a new option up front, Kaka's goal was pure quality and little Pato found the net which will boost his confidence. Zambrotta scored an absolute screamer but still not convinced about Ronaldinho. He seems to have turned up for some kind of samba holiday. He must have tried that daft pass where he looks one way and hits the ball the other about 12 times in five minutes.

Elsewhere, Roma bounced back with a win, Juve and Inter kept up their good form and Fiorentina got three vital points against Bologna. It was that man Gilardino again. How he has been reborn since his move away from Milan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A curse upon the French!

The Viola stood on the brink of one of their greatest European results last night before the nasty football fates intervened. Well, the referee anyway.

With Luciano Zauri lying pole-axed on the floor in the penalty box after a head knock the ref failed to stop play. Then Lyon showed a distinct lack of sportsmanship by continuing to play themselves. It was child's play to roll the ball into the net with Zauri effectively playing everybody on side while clutching his head.

Yes, the Viola were naive. Yes, they should have played the whistle. Yes, they should not have tried to play the offside trap.

Just the same it left a bitter taste. Eventually Lyon equalised from being 2-0 down (from a dubious free-kick) and a draw in France ended up feeling disappointing when it should have been a good result. When my rage dies down I may realise that. In the meantime, I am furious.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A curse on Napoli

Got back to watching the Viola today after a two week break and it was the same old torture. We huffed and puffed and went ahead with a clinical Adrian Mutu finish. Only then we got caught twice and lost the game. All three points stayed in the San Paolo with Napoli.

It was a hard one to take because, I felt, we did all the attacking. The home side were happy to sit back and punch us on the break which, to be fair, they did brilliantly. Little Lavezzi was a niggling nuisance every time he got the ball.

There is a lesson there, however. Fiorentina need to get a cutting edge and quickly. It is no use bossing a game if you can't kill the opposition off. I thought that lesson should have been learned against Rangers last year. Also, we need to know how to tighten things up once we have taken a lead.

Still, it could be worse, I guess. I could be a Milan fan. They have started off dreadfully. And Roma have not done much better. Although I think the number of absentees against Palermo was a partial excuse for their failure. However, it all confirms this could really be a wide open championship race.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Come on you Martelli?

It would appear that a corner of London is talking Italian. With Slaven Bilic out the way the top contenders for the vacant West Ham job all appear to be very familiar names to followers of Serie A. As Kevin Keegan might have said after Alex Ferguson wound him up, I would "love it" if one of them was to get the post.

Bobby Mancini was a front-runner but appears to have ruled himself out. That makes way for our recently deposed CT, Roberto Donadoni. The final contender - perhaps the most intriguing appointment since he was a Chelsea legend - is Gianfranco Zola. Any one of them would make for interesting times.

The reason I would like to see one of them appointed is simple. I would actually start to care a bit about the Premiership. I kind of keep an eye on Andrea Dossena at Liverpool (sorry Trent), and I have my fantasy football side to watch out for but a manager could take things to a whole new level. They almost always bring in their own favourites which could mean an influx of Italians at Upton Park. The Claret and Azzurri could quickly become my side in England.

So, all together now, "io sto sempre soffiando bollicine, belle bollicine nell'aria..."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

All five flop

It's a rare weekend in Serie A when the five would-be title contenders fail to win. Nonetheless, that is what happened on opening weekend. It could bode well for the competitive level of the year ahead.

Inter were foiled by Sampdoria and held to a draw, Roma did the same against Napoli (with some more nasty fan trouble, tsk, tsk) and Juve and Fiorentina also shared the spoils. Worst of all were Milan who lost at home to my tip to surprise Bologna.

I think the Rossoneri have a lot to sort out after performing open-heart surgery in the summer. Inter are not as far ahead of the pack as they think while Juve and the Viola were probably worth a point each (although I thought Fiorentina did most of the attacking). I didn't see much of Roma but think they have to be disappointed with not getting an opening day win.

It means Torino, Lazio, Udinese and the likes are sitting pretty at present. They get to enjoy it for at least a couple of weeks, too, as the Nazionale takes centre stage.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Good draw, bad draw?

Italy's four troops for the Champions League battle found out their group enemies yesterday. My first reaction was that they all landed pretty favourable sections. None of them will have it easy but, equally, none of them face an impossible task.

Inter, as top seeds, got the best of it, I reckon. Bremen, Panathinaikos and Anorthosis should hardly have Jose Mourinho quaking. As always, if the Nerazzurri don't progress, they only have themselves to blame. Prospects of progress: 90%

It fell to Roma to land Johnny English in the form of Chelsea. They were the Premiership side I would have preferred to avoid. I reckon Liverpool or Arsenal would have been an easier task. Still, the other group members - Bordeaux and Cluj (queue a lot of toilet jokes from the Scottish speakers out there) - are not unbeatable. Prospects of progress: 70%.

Juventus landed a more sticky looking section. Real Madrid and last season's revelation Zenit make tough contenders. I reckon the Russians were a third seed nobody wanted. Still, there was the consolation of BATE Borisov or whatever they are called as bottom dogs. The Bianconeri should still have what it takes to get through. Prospects of progress: 60%.

As a fourth seed, Fiorentina were always likely to land the toughest group but it did not go as badly as it might have. Lyon, Bayern Munich and Steaua Bucharest is not easy but not entirely out of reach. It also throws up the delightful prospect of Luca Toni coming back to Florence. All in all a real test of how the Viola are developing as a team. Prospects of progress: 35%.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First blood to Mourinho

If this was the shape of things to come, then it should be a good season. Inter and Roma stood toe to toe in the San Siro last night with the Nerazzurri just coming out on top.

It looked like being a one-sided affair after Inter got ahead through Muntari and started to play with some composure. However, they never got the extra goals they needed and Roma hit back through a De Rossi screamer (Julio Cesar might have done better).

Then up popped Mario Balotelli late in the game to turn things Inter's way again only for Mirko Vucinic to equalise once more. The final twist came from the penalty spot with Francesco Totti missing what could have been the winner for Roma. Eventually, a Juan spot-kick was saved and Javier Zanetti converted the winner for Inter. At last, a nice advert for the Italian game. And a winning start for the Special One.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lippi II

It felt a bit like welcoming your father back home after a lengthy summer holiday. Relaxed, tanned and with a wide grin - Marcello Lippi got back to work on Wednesday. Everything is right in the world.

The 2-2 draw with Austria seemed almost incidental. The Azzurri went two goals behind and looked shaky in defence. Then they got the bit between their teeth and - thanks to a dreadful goalkeeping blunder by the Austrian goalie - salvaged a draw. It took Lippi's undefeated run to 26 games.

In pre and post-match press conferences the mighty Tuscan made you wonder why he had ever been away. To continue my earlier analogy, it all made you feel a bit sorry for your step-father Roberto Donadoni. He tried, bless him, but he just wasn't your dad.

Lippi batted away the sneaky, loaded questions the Italian media likes to pose with ease. A smile, a shrug and a suitably straight answer were just what the tifosi ordered.

Of course, there is work to be done. While Italy's qualification group for the next World Cup looks none too difficult, there are problems with a leaky defence and a generational change of players. The good news was that Roma's bra-size brothers AA (Alberto Aquilani) and the more ample DD (Daniele De Rossi) looked in fine shape. And Alberto Gilardino got one of those strange, flukey goals which always does a striker's confidence good.

Everything felt right again. That may wear off in the weeks to come but in the meantime let's enjoy it. Bentornato Marcello!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spirito di Bati

Have we really been away so long? I guess we have. Eight years away from Europe's top competition. And what have the Viola been through in the interim?

Relegated to C2, won promotion, made the double-jump to Serie B, won a dramatic play-off, avoided immediate relegation from Serie A, flung out of a Champions League spot, handed a hefty points penalty, lost out in the UEFA Cup semi-final. Quiet times, really.

The Stadio Artemio Franchi will be THE place to be tonight when Slavia Prague visit. The atmosphere should be tremendous as the Florentine fans turn out in force to will their team through to the group stages. After the big spending of the summer, they need that financial boost.

It is also a chance for this new generation to show it can live up to the boys of the past - big Francesco Toldo, Rui Costa and, of course, the mythical Batigol. No Montolivo, he's at the Olympics, but a dream of going to the elite stages of the competition. It would be so sweet.

I reckon it will be a tough tie. Somehow the boys never do things easily. Here is hoping. Forza Viola!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Special One strikes

It did not take long for the first mind games to begin. Jose Mourinho has picked his first victim - Claudio Ranieri. "He is about 70 and he has won a Super Cup and a little cup," he is reported to have blasted at the Juve boss. Ah, what fun!

Certainly, after the pastings some of the Italian teams have been taking pre-season, this banter between bosses might be the only fun we get this year. I never take too much out of friendly games but you have got to be worried. The gap between the Huge Debt League and the rest of Europe is getting bigger and bigger.

I hope that once the action gets under way we can find the tactics to get some decent results. Otherwise, I fear we might be watching a more and more triumphal march for the forces of England.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Et tu, Mutu?

There have been a few tormented transfer deals this summer. Ronaldo to Real, Lampard to Inter and now, it would appear, Adrian Mutu to Roma. Will he stay or will he go?

I can understand a move to Roma to some extent. Probably more money, definitely more chance of the Scudetto and automatic group stages in the Champions League. Who wouldn't?

But, then again, the Viola are a team on the rise with the Romanian at their heart. They have built him up when nobody much cared for him. I know loyalty doesn't exist any more but just the same.

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that greater players than him have left Florence and the club has moved on. Baggio, Batigol and Toni all headed on to pastures new. In the end, you support the team, not one player.

Nonetheless, he was at the very epicentre of the Viola revolution. Without him, the attack is a bit of an unknown quantity. Pazzini and Gilardino might be a perfect double act but, then again, maybe not.

Once a player gets unsettled, though, is there really much point in keeping them? Certainly not if their own fans turn against them. I suspect Mutu is simply looking to get the best deal he can - be it in Florence or Rome. You can't blame him, a footballer's career is short, etc. But that won't stop me cursing him if he does go...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who signed Roger Rabbit?

Everyone is agreed, Milan needed to make some moves this summer. Their team looked jaded and struggled to compete last year. But, what on earth possessed them to splash out on the over-necklaced Ronaldinho?

I may be proved wrong, he may become a Rossonero legend - but I doubt it. Surely his day is done.

The only redeeming feature of the move is at least it shows Milan remain more appealing than Manchester City. It really would have been one in the eye for Serie A if he had snubbed the multi-Champions League winners for the City of Manchester stadium.

Reading between the lines this seems more like a media move than one designed to boost the team. Of course, at his best, he would be a quality addition. But even at his worst, he will shift a lot of season tickets and merchandise. It seems to have been done more to appease the fans than with any real vision of beefing up the Milan side.

Maybe I've just spent too long listening to people bore me about how great he was when he played for Barcelona. We'll see if he gets the same rave reviews now he has crossed the great divide from La Liga to Serie A.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Is he worth it?

I know he is a good player and all that but is all the ballyhoo about Frank Lampard worthwhile? Would he really transform Inter into Champions League contenders? Or is it just a show of strength from the Nerazzurri and Mourinho?

All answers gratefully received.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Welcome home Marcello...

So it appears we are back where we left off two years ago. The Donadoni era is over and back walks in the man with the Toscano cigar, Marcello Lippi. Why did we bother getting rid of him in the first place?

If he just wanted a rest, couldn't we have advertised for a caretaker for 24 months? Or maybe Dona knew that was what he was getting. Otherwise, it was precious time wasted.

The Azzurri did OK in Euro 2008 but they lacked conviction and confidence. Undoubtedly, missing Cannavaro, Pirlo and Gattuso for a big game against Spain was a tough ask. Just the same, a lot of the new men came up short in the tournament. Aquilani did little in that particular match, Di Natale seemed a long way off world class and Barzagli was a flop too. At least there was Chiellini and De Rossi to be proud of along with the old favourites like Buffon, Zambrotta, Grosso. Still unsure about Cassano but he must have a part in the way forward.

There is a lot of talk about Nesta and Totti coming back but would this really be the way to go? We have already lost a couple of years for potential progress, we need to look to the future. On the other hand, if these great players can still give something to the cause then why not? I await developments with interest.

PS - I had a great holiday under a sweltering Tuscan sun with the temperatures up to 38C. Back in Scotland now though, wind, rain and 20 degrees cooler.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I think we all know the answer

If you had the chance to knock the World Cup finalists out of Euro 2008 what would you do? Holland boss Marco Van Basten (right) has that decision to make. A simple defeat to Romania is enough to put the Azzurri and Les Bleus on the first plane home on Tuesday night. I know what I think will happen.

If Sweden and Denmark could produce a 2-2 draw to put Italy out last time around it does not seem so tricky for the Dutch to produce a more straightforward result. Does it really go against their nature? Will their natural swagger make them want to go through with three wins out of three? Will Italy be good enough to beat France anyway?

Strangely enough, Roberto Donadoni has turned to Antonio Cassano. He was the very player who ended up in tears when he found out his goal at Euro 2004 meant nothing thanks to the great Scandinavian stitch-up. Could history repeat itself? I hope not.

Finally, this blog is going to take a little break over the next ten days or so. However, I will be back in harness by the end of the European championships. I really don't expect Italy to be in contention by that stage. I have liked the look of Croatia so far - a stuffy side with a lot of technique.

Anyway, I shall return, fully recharged and ready for battle in the season ahead....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dutch debacle

Well, that was a miserable start wasn't it?

Granted, the first goal was offside and conditioned the whole game but, just the same, the hari-kari defending was the cause of great concern. By the time we got things sorted out in the second half the horse had bolted.

The third goal was the icing on a bitter cake.

Is this penance for the World Cup? Can we still turn things around? In truth, if the Azzurri can't beat Romania they don't deserve to go any further. Failure to win that game would also put Donadoni's contract under severe pressure.

Di Natale was caught short at the highest level, Grosso should have started and I can never understand why we would go without De Rossi. The small consolation? It was only a group game - Holland were celebrating like they had won the tournament.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I WAS quite calm...

The build up was all going pretty calmly. OK, I thought, it is only the Euro Nations, not a World Cup. Does it really matter that much?

Then my cousin, the legendary Venezian, sent me this.

Of course it matters. This is Italia! Forza Azzurri! Facci sognare!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Addio capitano!

A bitter blow on the eve of the Euro Nations as Il Capitano - Fabio Cannavaro - gets injured on the training ground. A curse on Giorgio Chiellini - did the Juve man think he would get Canna's place?

There are some good replacements, of course, but none with anything like his presence and experience. Maybe "Mad Dog" Panucci will be moved to the centre (no bad thing for defending our flanks) or will the tough-nut Matrix-Barzagli combo be used?

No matter, there is a championship to be won and it is great to see he will be hanging around to give his support. You really would not expect anything less. Forza Cannavaro!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Countdown to Euro 2008

Having watched the Azzurri easily see off Belgium 3-1 in a friendly it is time to turn the attentions to more serious matters. Austria and Switzerland beckon for Euro 2008. Can Italy do the double and add the European crown to their World Cup win two years ago?

This has never been a great tournament for Italy. Our last win came in 1968. That means they have never won it in my lifetime (see, I'm not as old as you thought). It is a record it would be nice to change.

The group, of course, is tough. Holland, Romania and France present stern opposition. I'm inclined to think a winning start could be vital this time around. Hence, the pressure will be on to beat Holland next Monday night. I believe that Donadoni's men can progress but their style of play is not without its risks. If it all clicks, however, it should be good enough to go forward (with France, yet again, possibly?).

The other groups look feeble in comparison. They have done their best to get host nation Switzerland through in a group including the Swiss, Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey. Everybody is tipping Portugal to have a great tournament (on the back of Ronaldo) but I hope they might trip up. That would leave Switzerland and the Czech Republic to progress.

Slightly stronger is Austria's section with Germany, Croatia and Poland. The poor Austrians may be the worst nation ever to host a tournament but I suspect they might sneak a draw somewhere. Just the same, it looks like it should be Germany along with either Croatia or Poland to progress. I've a hunch it could be Croatia.

Finally, Greece, Sweden, Spain and Russia go into battle. Surely, you would think, Spain can't mess up that group. Yet, I believe, that is quite within their compass. They should sneak through, my guess is along with Sweden.

If everything went to my plan you would end up with something like this in the quarter finals - Italy v Sweden, France v Spain, Czech Republic v Croatia and Germany v Switzerland. If that was the case, would it really be such a shock to get Italy v France AGAIN in the semi-final with Germany v Croatia in the other match.

After that, I don't dare to predict but you can see the way my thoughts are heading. Certainly, if Italy make it out of their group they have a good chance of getting to the final. That would be fantastic.

Forza Azzurri!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Azzurri omens

Gigi Casiraghi and his boys won the Toulon tournament on Thursday night as a nice warm-up for the Olympics. However, it also bodes well for the future of the Italian national team. Great to see some more talents coming through.

Little Sebastian Giovinco was absolutely outstanding in the tournament. Is he too small for the tough world of football? I hope not, it would be great to see his skills go to the very top.

And the winning goal came from Pablo Osvaldo. God bless the Viola!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stepping into the Jose era

The managerial scene in Italy just got very interesting. With Roberto Mancini shown the door at Inter, in steps a man likely to liven up press conferences everywhere - Jose Mourinho (aka The Special One). Spalletti, Ancelotti and the rest better watch out for those mind games.

You've got to feel a bit sorry for Mancio. I know I had my reservations about his coaching abilities but delivering three titles in a row (by a roundabout means) is no mean achievement. Mind you, just ask Gordon Strachan if that is enough to buy you love.

The clear statement of intent with the Mourinho appointment, however, is a move for the Champions League. While Inter have dominated at home, they have failed to produce the goods in Europe. If there is one thing the Nerazzurri will hope he can address, it is that failing.

However, we would do well to remember that with an even greater budget at Chelsea he was unable to deliver that prize. Nonetheless, he retains a reputation - perpetuated largely by himself - as one of the biggest managerial names in the world. If he can deliver a Champions League to Inter then few could argue with is quality. It has only been 40 years or so since they last won one, after all.

* On a sad note, I see Riccardo Montolivo has been left out of the Italy 23 for the European Nations. As a Viola man, I am upset and hoped he could have squeezed out Roma's Alberto Aquilani. Still, Forza Azzurri.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

See you in the Champions

It would never have been the Viola way to do things simply, so instead they made me sweat until 15 minutes from time. They should have been about five goals ahead of Torino by half-time but Matteo Sereni kept getting in the way.

When we heard Milan were losing, of course, we relaxed a bit but when they swept past Udinese there was an air of panic. Yes, Toro were hardly killing themselves to beat us but the ball would not find its way into the net.

It was going to take something special and, in the end, Pablo Osvaldo (right) delivered exactly that. A spectacular overhead kick which put us into fourth spot. Having had the Champions League snatched away previously, it tastes all the sweeter this time around.

I hope, however, we have learned the lessons that both Serie A and Europe have taught us this term. Too often we have either failed to get ahead of teams or failed to kill them off. We need a bit more killer instinct if we are to survive at this higher level.

Still, there is next season to think of those matters. The summer beckons and Euro 2008. There really is no rest for the Italian football fan.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm back

Life is never dull following Fiorentina in particular and Italian football in general. After the UEFA semi-final, I felt drained of all supporting emotion for quite a while. Ten days or so, however, and they caught me once again.

I felt a sickening thud when Parma scored in Florence as if the wheels were coming off the whole season. Not only were we going to miss out on the UEFA Cup final but we were going to throw away our shot at a Champions League spot. All that good work wasted.

But then a cheer went up from the Fiesole. Napoli had taken the lead against Milan. Suddenly, if we got a grip, fourth place was still possible. I leapt from my resignation and acceptance of defeat as the men in purple surged forward for one last heroic effort. Wee Mario Santana - one of our most frustrating players this season - grabbed an equaliser. It was game on.

When word got round that Napoli had gone two clear my living room and the Stadio Franchi went bananas. I like to think that I was able to send my vibes across the miles to the stadium. Now was the time to go for the kill.

Once again it was a player who has annoyed me as much as pleased me this season - Franco Semioli - who found the net. This time from a lovely cross by Martin Jorgensen. Then Osvaldo put the icing on the cake to finish proceedings.

Surely football could not be so cruel as to let already-safe Torino do anything other than let us triumph next Sunday? At least let this fine purple season end with a Champions League place. If that happens we owe a big thank-you to Napoli for putting one over on their old rivals Milan when they had nothing to really fight for.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A blog in mourning

I may not be able to write about football for some time...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ragazzi, non mollare!

It sounds better when 40,000 sing it, as we'll hear on Thursday...

And for Martino!

Garrisca al vento il labaro viola,
sui campi della sfida e del valore
una speranza viva ci consola
abbiamo undici atleti ed un solo cuore!

Rit.: O Fiorentina, di ogni squadra ti vogliam regina
O Fiorentina, combatti ovunque ardita e con valor
nell'ora di sconforto o di vittoria
ricorda che del calcio hai tu la storia!

Maglia viola lotta con vigore
per esser di Firenze vanto e gloria
sul tuo vessillo scrivi Forza e Cuore
e nostra sarà sempre la vittoria!

Rit.: O Fiorentina (...)

Forza Fiorentina!
Alé Alé Viola!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sogno un cielo VIOLA!

We Viola men know that our dates with destiny are few and far between. While others dine regularly at the elite European footballing table, we are content with more humble fare. We are more "pasta e fagioli" than "spaghetti al tartufo".

But every so often a game comes along which invites us in to more fancy surroundings or, on this occasion, Ibrox. These are the matches that really get the stomach churning - but they are also games to savour.

It was nearly a decade ago that we were dishing out defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United (whatever happened to that pair of duds, eh?). It was closer to 20 years ago that we reached this stage of the UEFA Cup competition. Dragged there by little Robertino Baggio on the eve of Italia '90 we made the final. In the end, over two legs, we lost to another Italian team who play in black and white and answer to the nickname, The Hunchbacks.

Look back further and you will see that Rangers were the opponents on the only occasion Fiorentina won a European trophy - the Cup Winners Cup in 1961. Inspired by Kurt Hamrin they won the two-legged affair 4-1 on aggregate. It crowned a golden age for the Viola who had won the Scudetto in 1956 and then went on to finish second for several seasons in a row.

In my lifetime, however, the great Euro moments have been few. The Divin Codino skating across the icy pitch to beat Dynamo Kiev, Batigol silencing the Nou Camp and Old Trafford and, now, the possibility of completing Mission Ibrox and getting to Manchester for the UEFA Cup final.

I will settle down with my old pal Martino and a good bottle of Tuscan red and pray for victory. Then we could dream of another sumptuous footballing treat - possibly with Luca Toni as guest of honour.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Countdown to Apocalypse

I have been building myself up into a bit of a state about one particular game recently. The UEFA Cup semi-final, of course. Fiorentina against Rangers.

It is a re-run of the Cup Winners Cup final of about 47 years ago - which my dad was lucky enough to attend (depends on your definition of luck). The Viola won that one and here is hoping that they can repeat it this time.

I have just read an interesting interview with Celtic misfit Massimo Donati giving his view of what Fiorentina can expect. He says expect the Rangers to play an ultra-cautious 4-5-1 formation and try to hit on the break. How times have changed!

I believe the boys in purple have the technique and ability to grab at least one goal at Ibrox. That would make the return job in Florence a lot easier. I hope they can reach the final and meet old Luca Toni and Bayern Munich there. What a pleasure that would be...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Azzurri aces

Given that I have just posted my favourite three Viola players of all time, I thought I would follow up with my favourite three Azzurri from my era (circa 1980 to present day). Of course, I would probably have slotted two of my previous selection in here too but I will leave Roby Baggio and Giancarlo Antognoni to one side.

1) Claudio Gentile - I could have gone for the elegance and poise of Gaetano Scirea or Franco Baresi but why not go for old shirt-ripper himself. He was everything that the world despised about Italian football but he hit his peak for the 1982 World Cup. His man-marking skills put paid to Zico, Diego Maradona and Karl Heinz Rummenigge in the space of that competition. It wasn't pretty but, hell, it was effective.

2) Paolo Maldini - A no brainer, really, but he has been the most influential player in the Italian game for the last 20 years or so. As soon as he emerged as a teenager you knew you were watching something special. His driving runs from full-back were a joy to watch and his strength in defence second to none. Even now, as he approaches 40, he still shows the young boys a thing or two.

3) Andrea Pirlo - I was tempted to go for Luca Toni but if there is one Italy player I enjoy watching at present it is the Milan man. The way he runs a game from midfield is outstanding. He was a great player as an Under 21 but there was a danger he was going to lose his way. God bless Carlo Ancelotti for creating that deep midfield role for him. A model of poise, balance and grace.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The father, the son and the Batigol

This, believe it or not, is my 200th post on this site. So I wanted to make it a special one or, at least, a bit unusual. I have decided to pay tribute to my three favourite all-time Fiorentina players.

1) Giancarlo Antognoni - The undisputed King of Firenze I watched him as a little boy in pre-season training in the Tuscan hills. He was the epitome of elegance and - it seemed to me - never needed to look at his feet to know where the ball was. For those of you too young to remember, think Andrea Pirlo but a bit taller and more fragile.

He was the classic playmaker in a time before every football had to have a six-pack, thunder-thighs and a lung capacity the size of a small family saloon. He won next to nothing with the Viola but a World Cup with Italy. And he shares my name, what more could you ask?

2) Robert Baggio - Even though he went on to find fame and fortune with Juve, Inter, Milan and others we always like to think he left his heart in Florence. That was certainly the case in his first season with the Bianconeri when he declined to take a penalty against his previous employers. What a man!

He looked so small and defenceless out on the pitch and yet ghosted away from opponents as if they were not there. His balance was outstanding and coolness in front of goal impeccable. Even in his late 30s with Brescia he was still one of the best in Serie A. Ci manchi tanto Robi!

3) Gabriel Omar Batistuta - A true force of nature and possibly the greatest striker of his generation. He had power, pace and a the kind of never-say-die attitude which is not exactly typical of Italian football.

I think I have seen him score in every possible manner but if he had a trade mark it was probably this. The long ball over the top dropped in front of him, he barged past a couple of defenders and thumped the ball with such venom that even if the keeper got close he had no chance of keeping it out of his goal. "Fiorentina have scored, it's that man Batistuta again!"

You'll notice all this avoids mentioning Roma v Man Utd last night.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No need for panic

So, we lost to Spain in a friendly. It was a cracking strike by David Villa which decided the game. Nonetheless, I am still cheerful for a few reasons.

1) Daniele De Rossi is growing into one of Europe's best midfielders. He is like Rino Gattuso but with better distribution skills and more goal threat. That makes a pretty impressive package.

2) Big Luca Toni led the line well and Toto Di Natale was a great sidekick. With Mauro Camoranesi also in good form the attacking options looked good.

3) Gigi Buffon is the best.

4) Let's face it, Spain ALWAYS win friendlies. It's the big tournaments that matter.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A lively finale in store

If the weekend events are anything to go by, the last ten weeks of the Serie A season could be pretty entertaining. Here are a few reasons why I think so...

1) Despite going down to defeat against Roma, Milan looked good. If only they had had Clarence Seedorf in for the second leg against Arsenal they might have given a better account of themselves. Bad news with the injury to Kaka but they will still fight hard for a fourth place finish.

2) Roma showed a lot of guts to come from behind to beat the Rossoneri. They play a lot of their games in advance of Inter in the weeks to come, it could be to their advantage. Also, they have Serie A's finest supersub - Mirko Vucinic.

3) Fiorentina got Adrian Mutu back which will be vital to fending off Milan in the fight for fourth place. I don't know if they can take the strain of the playing the UEFA Cup and battling for a Champions League finish but I do hope so.

4) Even the teams at the bottom of the table have started winning, meaning the relegation fight is going to be a juicy prospect too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How we used to be

UEFA, take note. Get rid of those daft group games and get the UEFA Cup back to the way it was. Up-and-coming sides standing toe-to-toe in a battle of footballing philosophies - just like we got at Goodison Park on Wednesday night.

If the game in Italy was all about Fiorentina's technique then the return match was all about Everton's passion. They threw everything at the Viola who eventually held on - just - to win the tie on penalties. But what a thrilling night.

It was just like the old days when old-fashioned English attitudes of commitment, strength and tempo clashed head on with Italian technique, tactics and invention. What compelling viewing it made. In the end, it was only the cool heads from the penalty spot that made the difference. Everton were a team transformed from the pale imitation which turned up in Florence. It wasn't how I like to see the game played but, by God, it was effective.

Now the Viola go into the pot for the quarter-finals and, with the way they clung on to win in England, must have a chance of going further. See you in the City of Manchester for the final?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bitter night for Inter

I know they are not many people's favourites but you still had to feel a bit sorry for Inter on Tuesday night. Not for going out of the Champs League, but the manner in which it happened. Playing the majority of their two legs against Liverpool with 10 men gave them a mountain to climb - and they are not THAT good to be able to climb it.

The decisions which put the Nerazzurri in difficulty were dreadful. Both in Liverpool and in Milan. If it had happened in reverse we would no doubt have been hearing all sorts of claims of corruption of officials.

What is annoying is that the top team in Serie A went out without being able to give a fair account of themselves. They might have gone out anyway but it would have been nice for Liverpool to have to beat them 11 against 11. Such is life.

Tonight it is Fiorentina's turn. There is a job to be finished at Goodison and I hope they are professional enough to do it. I haven't enjoyed Mr Moyes' attempts to ape Sir Alex and call for a "strong referee" and all that. He is surely better than that. Still, may the best team in purple win.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

We're not dead yet...

Maybe Serie A is not in such a disastrous state as we thought. Roma have won through, Fiorentina beat Everton and, who knows, if Inter could pull off a miracle the European scene would not looks so bleak.

There were also a few wake-up calls for England after their Champions League dominance. Spurs and Everton beaten in Europe and Bolton on a scoring draw at home. Yes, the top four are strong but maybe the strength in depth is not quite at the level it first appeared. Still, the Viola have to finish the job on Wednesday at Goodison.

So a big week lies in store. I hope for at the very least a show of pride by Inter. They were unlucky to play so much of the game at Anfield with ten men. Now they have got to show some guts and at least put up a fight. Otherwise, may the wheels fall off completely and let someone else win Serie A!

As for the boys in purple, they were impeccable on Thursday. Don't know how much was down to Everton playing badly and how much to Viola playing well. Pasqual looked like a world-beater while Carsley, Yobo, Lescott and others looked cumbersome in comparison. No doubt it will be a different tempo on Wednesday but I would hope the Fiorentini can find a goal - that would surely make it too much for Everton to do.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Magical Mirko!

After the bitter taste of Tuesday what a joy to see Roma keep Italian football to the fore with a gutsy display in Madrid. If only we could play Spanish teams every week...

The game was cagey throughout but the Giallorossi kept their cool but it was Mirko Vucinic who turned the match. He came on for Mancini and put in a virtuoso display - hitting the crossbar, getting a man sent off and scoring the vital second which killed off the tie.

The team also showed it had learned a few lessons from the terrible thumping it took in Manchester not so long ago. They may not go on to win the thing but they should at least be nobody's idea of an easy draw in the quarter finals.

Addio campioni!

They tried to resist the forces of nature but, in the end, Milan succumbed to Arsenal in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday night. In the end, disappointed as you might be, the better team over the two legs went through.

The Rossoneri had their chances in the San Siro but it was a bad time for Ricky Kaka to have an off night. Andrea Pirlo was also ensnared well by the Gunners midfield which left the playmaking role all too often in the hands of Rino Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini. How we wished the warmly-wrapped Clarence Seedorf could have come down from the stands and played his part.

Now is a time for stock-taking in Milan. The team needs an overhaul - maybe not as drastic as some people suggest - but an overhaul nonetheless. A striking target man would be useful, another creative midfielder to take pressure off Pirlo and - toughest of all - a replacement for Paolo Maldini.

You have to wonder if it might be the end of Carlo Ancelotti too. Not that he has done badly but failure to get to the last eight will be seen as disaster. If the Rossoneri should finish outside the top four that would be unforgivable. Do you think Mr Mourinho will have his phone switched on?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A weekend of surprises...

Ah, history in the making! The Viola down Juve in Turin and Napoli beat Inter. Great times, my friends, great times...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fulmine a San Siro

It should have been the goal that blasted the Serie A battle back open. Francesco Totti struck as sweet a left foot strike as you will ever see to give Roma the lead over Inter in their top of the table fight on Wednesday night. Instead, the Nerazzurri clawed their way back with ten men to get a draw which keeps them nine points clear.

The game started sluggishly but once Roma got ahead it sprung to life. Bobby Mancini committed his subs early and paid the price when Maxwell was stretchered off leaving his team with ten men. However, the referee evened that up by harshly sending off Phillipe Mexes. Then Roma lost a man through injury too, leaving them with nine.

Eventually, with suitable huff and puff, Javier Zanetti struck an equaliser through a forest of legs. The San Siro went nuts but the neutrals stamped the ground in disgust. Roma will never have a better chance to narrow the gap on the top of the table team than that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Inter rattled?

Following hot on the heels of their disaster in Liverpool, could Inter's failure to win against Sampdoria constitute a crisis? Even Bobby Mancini hinted as much in his recent interviews. For a side used to winning at a canter it throws a slender lifeline to their opponents.

The only side who can credibly take advantage are Roma who, nice coincidence, will play them on Wednesday night. If the Giallorossi could somehow sneak a win it would close the gap to six points which, while still significant, might give some hope of a genuine title fight.

Roma beat my beloved Viola, of course, on Sunday. I didn't see much of the game, I confess, but I did see the highlights. Obviously it is not an offence in Rome for Totti to stand in the line of a shot in an offside position in front of the goalkeeper. Churlish, moi? Worse news that Adrian Mutu picked up an injury and could be out for some time.

Elsewhere it was goalfest as Torino and Parma drew 4-4 and Genoa thumped Udinese 5-3. Italian football boring? Give me a break.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Firenze Sogna

Tonight is the night when a little dream can come true. Fiorentina take on Rosenborg in Florence with the prize dangling at the end of it a trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton.

I have followed the Viola for too long to think they will do the job with ease. However, having won the first leg 1-0 it would be a real shame to throw it away. I want my trip down to Liverpool to see my boys in action. Here is hoping.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Matrix unplugged

Remember the old Marco Materazzi? The pre-World Cup 2006, total-liability version? Well he was back in force on Tuesday night. He saw red leaving Inter with ten men for the majority of their Champions League clash with Liverpool. They lost 2-0, seriously compromising their chances of progress. Same old Inter, I am inclined to say.

Yes, Matrix's sending-off was harsh but after his first soft yellow (and one for Chivu) he should have got the idea. Instead, sadly, no. It has left the Nerazzurri with a mountain to climb.

Roma did better against Real. Their 2-1 win at least gives them half a chance of progressing. I was disappointed they didn't push to try to get a third. However, maybe they gave as much as they could. They have a couple of weeks to focus on the return game. I believe they will score in Madrid, don't know if they will score enough, mind you...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

That's one in the bag

Well, Inter really don't need to worry any more about the Scudetto after the weekend's events. They brushed past Livorno while Juve did them a big favour in beating Roma. You've got to hand it to Claudio Ranieri. He has put the Bianconeri in with a decent shout of finishing in second place in their first season back in Serie A.

Down the table a bit, Milan could not break down a solid Parma side and their draw allowed Fiorentina to rebuild a gap in fourth place thanks to an Adrian Mutu wonder strike against Catania. Udinese also won, making the fight for that last Champions League spot pretty tasty.

Elsewhere, it was the Antonio Cassano show as Samp won the Genoese derby by a single goal. Honestly, if the boy from Bari could just focus on his football he would be a real bonus to both club and country...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Torna presto Ronie!

I know, I know that I have poked fun at him in the past. I think I called him the "Lord of the Pies" and I definitely joked that he could no longer jump off the ground. However, I would not have wished a career-ending injury on Ronaldo.

It looks like the end of the road after he collapsed in a heap against Livorno on Wednesday night. I know he fought back before but I really wonder if he can manage it again. It is a big blow to Milan who - while they have Pato and Paloschi for the future - could have done with his experience in the big games to come.

Perhaps I am wrong and he can defy the odds and come back again. However, when a player has suffered as many serious injuries as he has, it is hard to believe he can really be a force to be reckoned with ever again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In praise of the little guy

In these days of global brand positioning - whatever that means - it is worth pausing to remember that, for the time being at least, even footballing giants need somebody to play against. So, for all this talk of taking the game around the world, you still have to be able to beat the minnows in your own back yard. And if those tiddlers happen to give you a fright from time to time - so much the better.

I thought this while watching Siena, Reggina, Catania and - to a lesser extent - Udinese at the weekend. Siena gave Milan a hard time only to be sunk by the Rossoneri's latest wonderkid Paloschi. On Saturday night Reggina played so cautiously for the first half I nearly switched off but in the second period they were enterprising and aggressive only to lose out to Roma. It was a similar story for Catania against Inter. Up until the Nerazzurri went ahead it was a good game.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina contrived to throw away a win (or Atalanta battled to the death, depending on your viewpoint). It means a midweek win over Livorno would put Milan into fourth place and back into the Champions League points. Apart from one setback - also at Atalanta - they are the form team of Serie A at the moment...

Monday, February 04, 2008

You know when you've been Pato-ed!

What did I say about playing badly but winning? Me and my big mouth. On Sunday night Fiorentina played one of their best games of recent times and, guess what? They got beat.

Little Pato came off the bench, scored the winner, then hobbled off injured. It would be fair to say few Stranieri have had a bigger impact in a shorter period of time in Serie A. If he keeps going like this he could be amazing.

The game itself started magnificently and then fizzled out. But in the second half it was the Viola who gave everything for the win. However, if you don't put the ball in the net, etc. They were punished by Pato just as they ran out of steam. Also, Kalac was in impressive form - I think it could be a long time until we see Dida back between the sticks.

Elsewhere, what to say about the penalty Inter got against Empoli? If it had been given to Juve we would never have heard the end of it. OK, the Nerazzurri might have won anyway but it did give them a hell of a hand - until Empoli missed their consolation spot-kick.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Brescia beats Govan

I love these lifestyle choice stories. I am sure I remember one when Florin Raducioiu (or however you spell it) was torn between somewhere grim in the UK and Espanol. It was his wife, I think, who said don't be so bloomin' stupid - we're off to Barcelona you eejit!

So, Andrea Caracciolo snubbed the Glasgow Rangers to go to Brescia. He even went down a division rather than head to Ibrox. Admirable? Foolish? Understandable?

In Glasgow he would surely have got plenty of goals. He would also have got a team virtually guaranteed Champions League football every year. He would have got to share a curry with Barry Ferguson.

Instead, he went back to the team where he first made his reputation. There he gets a side struggling to get back to Serie A but he will get pasta like his mamma used to make every day.

Now, which one would you have chosen?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Trap O'Toni?

To be sure, is there no end to the love of all things Italian at the moment? Apparently, the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni - he of the ridiculous touchline gestures and amazing whistling - is being considered for the job of manager of the Republic of Ireland.

Begorrah, bejeezus and any other Irish cliche I can think of! The Trap in charge of the Fighting Irish! It is so bonkers it is brilliant. It would, of course, mean that he would face Italy in the World Cup qualification group as well.

I say get Nevio Scala in for Wales, Marcello Lippi for Scotland and Luca Vialli for Northern Ireland and let's complete the clean sweep!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Winning Ugly

Normally, as a follower of Fiorentina, I have to content myself with playing nice football but losing. Indeed, it has become something of a philosophy at the Tuscan club. But, of late, they seem to be betraying that tradition.

The last few matches I have watched have seen the Viola see off Empoli, Torino and Parma without ever playing well. The exciting football of early months seems a long way off. However, it has produced the wins.

This could be a sign of a number of things. 1) We have been lucky - a couple of dubious penalties were included in these victories. 2) Prandelli's tactical astuteness - we were struggling in the run-up to Christmas but appear to have turned it round. 3) The team is maturing into one which takes its chances when they come along.

I like to go for the third option which was certainly the case on Sunday. Empoli had a lot of pressure but we had the ball in the net FIVE times (three ruled out for offside - probably all rightly so). And Mutu missed a sitter. Maybe catching Juve is not out of the question after all...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brave Parma go down fighting...

I had a weekend glut of games with three main pieces of televisual footballing entertainment. First up came Fiorentina on Saturday night. They edged past Torino courtesy of a couple of penalties. The first was given to Bobo Vieri to allow him to get his 200th Italian goal while the second went to Adrian Mutu who delivered his traditional "cucchiaio" - a cheeky chip down the middle of the goal as made famous by Francesco Totti. In between times a low Vince Grella strike had given Toro hope.

In truth, the Granata were a bit unlucky. Both penalties were a bit shady (the first more than the second). It is the second time in as many weeks that the Viola have been the beneficiaries of such dodgy decisions. They were lucky to beat Parma the week before after a delayed reaction Vieri tumble in the box. At least I am honest enough to admit it.

My second game was Udinese v Milan or, as you might call it, a return to earth over Pato. The Brazilian wonderkid had a much quieter time than he did on his debut. But it was ridiculous to expect any different. The Friuli boys are a very well-organised side and thoroughly deserve their league position. Milan are better with their new line up and a late, late Alberto Gilardino strike means a Champions League finish is still on the cards.

Finally, I suffered heartache with Parma. To say Mimmo Di Carlo's men were hard done by would be an understatement. They played with great organisation and no little attacking flair to lead Inter 2-1 with minutes to go. Then Fernando Couto leapt to clear on the goalline and brushed the ball with his arm. It was probably a penalty but it was hard to tell. Ibrahimovic converted and then he added insult to injury by scoring the winner. The post-match handshakes must have been hard to take for the Parmigiani.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spookily similar

It was bugging me all through the Milan v Napoli game the other night. I knew that the new wonder kid Pato reminded me of someone but I could not think who.

I had this feeling that he looked a bit like some US college kid in his freshman year. Wide-eyed and full of wonder at everything he sees.

It was only thanks to a chat with the legendary Venezian that all the pieces fell into place. Of course, for anyone who remembers the classic dorm-based comedy "Saved By The Bell" it was obvious. Pato is the reincarnation of Screech - otherwise known as Dustin Diamond.

I now look forward to all his great comedy sketches as well as more goals for Milan.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bentornato Campionato

It was worth the wait. Three weeks away was a long time without being able to get my fix of Serie A action. In the end, it came back with a real blast.

First and foremost came Pato's debut for Milan. It was a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old to turn around the Rossoneri's league season but he certainly made a promising start. Playing with Ronaldo, Pato and Kaka up front transformed the team. The boy looked confident in his new surroundings. The old, flabby Fenomeno grabbed a couple of goals. And Kaka was simply Kaka - the best player in the world at the moment.

In truth, the 5-2 scoreline was harsh on Napoli who, in the first half, gave Milan a fright. In the second, Carlo Ancelotti sorted out the balance of the team and the result was never in doubt.

Elsewhere, Inter were given more of a fright than they might have expected from Siena but still won. Roma got an important three points away to Atalanta and ten-man Udinese got a win in Cagliari.

In Parma, a Bobo Vieri leap won Fiorentina a penalty which kept them on the edge of the Champions League race and Juve got a 9oth minute "rigore" to salvage a point against Catania. All of which gave plenty of talking points for the week ahead. Good to have you back, Serie A.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gagging for it

Go on, tell the truth, you too are feeling like a horny teenager. It has been nearly three weeks since we got any. And I, for one, am bursting with anticipation.

Yes, Serie A explodes back onto our screens this weekend - and thank goodness for that. Sundays are just not the same without it. Goodness me, you have to spend time with the family or do chores around the house. Where is the fun in that?

Top topic for conversation seems to be whether or not Milan will throw Pato into the fray against Napoli. Speculation is rife that he might play alongside Gilardino with Kaka just in behind. Forming the Pa-Gi-Ka frontline or something like that.

Remember what a game Milan v Napoli used to be in the late 1980s? Diego v Berlusconi and all that. It is not quite the same this year but, still, it should be a good game. And Parma v Fiorentina was also a classic six or seven years back but this term they have very different aims for the game.

Elsewhere, Roma face a tricky trip to Bergamo to try to keep up any pressure on Inter who head to Siena. At the very best the Nerazzurri might get held to a draw to give some hope to their rivals. But I don't really believe that will happen.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wishes for 2008

Here are a few football-related hopes for the year ahead. I have desperately tried to find something for everyone but please let me know if you feel left out...

1) Italy to win Euro 2008. I know we just won the World Cup but, what the hell, I am greedy.

2) Milan to win the Champions League again. I just found out, courtesy of my Panini album I pretend is for my daughter, that the Rossoneri have made the final on 11 occasions out of 22 participations in the European Cup. Nobody comes close to that.

3) Roma to win the Scudetto. I have never spotted an Inter fan reading this blog but I know there are at least a couple of Romanisti.

4) Fiorentina to win UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and qualify for Champions League. That's for me and me alone!

5) Venezia to get promotion to Serie B. Arra! Arra! Venezian.

Sorry, Juventini, maybe Trezeguet can get the Golden Boot...