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.