Monday, August 31, 2009

Tripping off the tongue

It was, to be fair, a UK commentator's nightmare. Paolo De Ceglie coming off to be replaced by Nicola Legrottaglie. Thanks to ESPN, it came out something like Dee Chiggly making way for Lee Grott Aggily.

This has been one of the highlights (or lowlights) of the return of Serie A to British screens. Chiellini becomes Chee-ell-eeny, Marchisio is Mar-cheesio, Maicon is transformed into May-son, and, most endearingly, Amauri becomes Amore.

So, yes, the song is true. When the ball hits the net, for Juve you can bet - That's Amore!

However, what ESPN has been graced with is some exciting football. Week one gave them the blistering battle between Genoa and Roma. The weekend gone by was not short on drama either.

What to say about Milan's capitulation in the derby? There was the amateur way they had to send Rino Gattuso back out when he was injured and ended up getting him sent off. There was the stubborn refusal to replace Ronaldinho when he was totally out of the play. And then there was the forlorn look of Leonardo like a man drowning.

Yes, he looks good in the white shirt which seems to be de rigeur for Coaches this year. Yes, he is a nice and intelligent guy. Yes, he may make a great manager in time. But, at present anyway, it looks like he has been given an impossible task - rival Inter and Juve without the players needed to do so.

The Bianconeri, for their part, despatched Roma with some style. It has been a bad start in terms of results for the Giallorossi but they will not play Genoa and Juve every week. Ciro Ferrara looks to have a real gem in Diego and Fiorentina fans knew he was getting a good one when he snapped up Felipe Melo.

It has been an exciting start to Serie A but la Nazionale now takes centre stage. An away day in Georgia and home clash with Bulgaria could all but seal a trip to South Africa to defend our World Cup crown.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Euro draw reaction

Remember the days when Milan blasted their way through Europe, gunning down their rivals along the way? Those times may well be long gone but I have used them as a yardstick to assess Italian teams chances of progress in Europe this year. Each side gets an "Arrigo Rating" with a maximum of five awarded to the team most likely to progress.

MILAN - Our only top seed could have landed more comfortably, but their prospects must be reasonable. They face the unknown element of the Galacticos and old boy Ricky Kaka at Real Madrid. They could be brilliant but, I suspect, they might be rusty in the opening rounds. The other teams are Ligue 1 runners-up Marseille and Swiss side Zurich - both of whom should be beatable either home or away. Rinaldi's rating - Three Arrigos.

INTER - Our top dogs only merited second seeding and paid the price by landing champions Barcelona. A first chance to see who got the best out of the Ibra-Eto'o deal. Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan make up the numbers, surely able to be swept aside by Mourinho's men. Rinaldi's rating - Four Arrigos.

JUVENTUS - Potentially got the kindest draw with the weakest top seed in the form of Bayern Munich. Bordeaux are French champions with old acquaintance of Serie A Yoann Gourcuff in top form. Maccabi Haifa should be a tricky away trip and no more. Rinaldi's rating - Four Arrigos.

FIORENTINA - Always likely to face the toughest task and no doubt it ended up that way. Liverpool and Lyon have an impressive track record in the Champions League in recent years. However, they do have the comfort of little Debreceni as their last opponents. Rinaldi's rating - Two Arrigos.

In the EUROPA league the draw has also been made too. Roma get to take on the English with Fulham in their group along with CSKA Sofia and Basel. Got to fancy their chances (Five Arrigos). Lazio meet Villareal, Levski Sofia and Salzburg (Four Arrigos) . While Genoa are in the hunt along with Valencia, Lille and Slavia Prague (Three Arrigos if they use their full team).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A night of living dangerously

It began with talk of important arrivals at the Artemio Franchi. Sting was in the crowd, apparently, as well as new signing Lorenzo De Silvestri. Both, however, declined to speak to the waiting Sky Italia microphones.

The Fiesole was in the mood for a big European night. Showing off its full colours and voice, the Curva declared its faith that the Viola could make it to the Champions League group stages. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell the team.

Lacklustre would be the most kind description of Fiorentina's first half against Sporting Lisbon. The visitors bossed the game pretty much from the outset as Cesare Prandelli's men looked unsure of their approach. They knew they really should attack - but somehow could not bring themselves to do so.

When Joao Moutinho gave the Portuguese the lead it was no more than they deserved. You could grumble about a clear handball in the build-up to their free-kick but you could not argue they were the better team. Some dressing-room half-time magic was in order.

That's where Stevan Jovetic came into play. The introduction of JoJo and, hopefully, a verbal rocket in the direction of Riccardo Montolivo, transformed the team. For about 15 pulsating minutes the boys in purple revealed their true colours.

This is a team that only gives its best when going forward and taking the initiative. Vargas, Marchionni, Mutu, Montolivo, Gilardino, Jovetic and the rest are drawn towards goal. Ask them to simply "control" a game and they just can't do it.

The proof came in the last desperately defended 15 minutes. Sporting had lost some of the crispness to their play but they still hemmed the Florentines in. It would not be the Viola, if they did not make you suffer.

Now we look forward to the Champions League group stages. A kindly draw would be nice. But, whoever we land, we know it will be torture all the way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Franchi focus

How much would I give to be in Florence tonight? The warm weather, the view of the Fiesole hills and a Champions League berth to be secured...

Instead, I am in the chill rain of Scotland, watching from my living room. But I will be there in spirit, willing the Prandelli Show to go on into Europe's elite competition. I think I read somewhere it would be the first time we had made consecutive group stages. If so, it would be quite some achievement.

It's all about attitude tonight, I reckon. If we take that typically Italian approach of trying to defend what we have, we will never get anywhere. However, if we are 100% concentrated and 100% clinical in taking our chances we just might do it. Come sempre, Forza Viola...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Diamanti geezer

If there was any doubt about which Premiership team Italians should support it looks like being shed pretty soon. Yes, there is Ancelotti at Chelsea if you want to go for guaranteed glory. Or there is Cudicini at Spurs if you want to get off to a flying start. There is even the Aquilani-Dossena connection at Liverpool.

But the time has surely come to say Forza Hammers!

It was probably enough for most Napoletani that Mara-Zola was in charge. Add in a little sprinkle of former Viola and Inter man Luis Jiminez and the temptations grew stronger. Now that it looks like they have snapped up Livorno starlet Alessandro Diamanti and there is no room for dubiety. Heck, they are even being linked with Massimo Oddo.

So, bring me my dictionary straight away. How on earth do you translate "I'm for ever blowing bubbles!".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let the games commence...

Ah, it has been a long summer. Too long. There has been the Ashes, I suppose. And there was that thrilling finale to the British Open with the elderly Tom Watson so cruelly denied. But - just the same - give me this Sunday my Serie A.

In fact, things start on Saturday. Fiorentina head to Bologna to try to pick up their form after a shaky display but good result at Sporting Lisbon. Later in the day we get a chance to see how the new Milan is shaping up. They face a tricky wee trip to Siena. This is the post-Maldini, Kaka and Ancelotti era. It hasn't looked great so far but the crunch comes with competitive matches.

Reigning champs Inter have a pretty straightforward looking debut at home to Bari on Sunday. Pick of the days fixtures are last year's revelations Genoa at home to last year's disasters Roma and a potentially red-hot Palermo v Napoli match. Should be plenty to debate following those matches.

It is also the dawn of a new era for UK-based Calcio fans. We get ESPN covering Serie A for the first time this weekend. Initial signs look quite good. I enjoyed their coverage of the Scottish Premier League clash between Dundee Utd and Hearts the other night. Here's hoping they get some cracking matches to get the ball rolling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Carletto kicks off with a win

OK, so it was not the most sporting affair but at least the Italian came out on top. Carlo Ancelotti made his first effort at managing in a competitive clash in the English set-up and he did not too badly.

His team started off shakily but he seemed to make the right adjustments and then come on strong in the closing stages. Yes, there was controversy about the second goal but it shouldn't disguise the fact that the Blues did get better as the game went on.

However, what a boost Pato could be to the Stamford Bridge side. Drogba and Anelka does not work for me. Drogba and Pato has mind-blowing potential. Be worth about 50 goals a season from the pair, I reckon.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Seeds of despair in Champions League

I know UEFA want to encourage smaller nations but the last play-off round of the Champions League has some bizarre seeding arrangements. The 20 teams fighting it out for 10 remaining group places have been divided into two pots and then divided into seeds and non-seeds.

On one path you have the seeds Arsenal, Lyon, Sporting, Panathinaikos and Stuttgart with the NON-SEEDS Fiorentina, Celtic, Atletico Madrid, Anderlecht and Timisoara.

On the other you find the SEEDS are Olympiakos, Copenhagen, Levski Sofia, Maccabi Haifa and FC Zurich. The non-seeds are FC Salzburg, Apoel, Ventspils, Debreceni and FC Sheriff.

Spot anything there? The strength difference between the two paths is enormous. I would say the non-seeds in the first section are stronger than the seeded sides in the other. If they wanted to guarantee a few useless teams getting through to get thrashed in the groups they have gone the right way about it.

Bitter Viola fan? You bet.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bird's Nest date for Supercoppa

Our first taste of all-Italian action for the season takes place on Saturday - in a Bird's Nest. Inter take on Lazio for the Supercoppa in the Chinese stadium of the same name. It will give an initial health check on the two teams.

Both sides have been transformed a fair bit in the summer. The Nerazzurri begin the post-Ibra era and all their new big names are expected to take part. So, worth tuning in for a glimpse of Lucio, Thiago Motta, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito getting their first competitive outing in blue and black.

For Lazio, it is more about their Coach. Davide Ballardini replaces old "Squinty Tie" himself, Delio Rossi - whose reward for winning the Coppa Italia was to be shown the door by the Biancocelesti. It has always been thus in Italy.

The Roman outfit have also just signed former Inter hitman Julio Cruz. Be very interesting to see if he plays. The "Law of the Ex" as they call it in Italy would dictate that he should be among the goals if he does meet his former employers.