It has been a sobering month for Italian football. The respective defeats of Juventus and Lazio by Bayern Munich and Fenerbahce mean that the nation has no representation in the semi-finals of European competition for a third season running. Antonio Conte struck a grim note afterwards, the Juventus manager arguing that Serie A teams simply did not have the financial resources to compete with the best in Europe.
Not everyone agreed. Many were quick to point out that, in Juve’s case at least, Conte’s complaint did not stand up to scrutiny; his team’s net spend on transfers is about the same as Bayern’s over the past three years. Others, like the Italy manager Cesare Prandelli, simply rejected such defeatist overtones. “When there are no economic resources to call upon,” he said, “then what you need is new ideas.”
Amid the doom and gloom, the truth is that some fresh thinking is beginning to take hold. Milan have cut their wage bill and put faith in youth, yet still succeeded in challenging for a top-three finish. Udinese, meanwhile, have put forward a new model for stadium ownership, securing a long-term lease of the communally owned Stadio Friuli that will allow them to both upgrade the facility and unlock new revenue streams in future.
Prandelli might also look with satisfaction on the work being done at his former club, Fiorentina. A team which had appeared have slipped into a downward spiral since his departure in 2010 has instead been the revelation of this campaign. Last year Fiorentina flirted with relegation; now they are battling for a Champions League berth. Read the rest of this entry »
He emerges like Rambo from the mud. Fiorentina centre-back Facundo Roncaglia is yet to cross enemy lines. He is still in his own half of the pitch when he launches a ball towards the Napoli penalty area. As it travels through the air, all it needs is the video game sound effect of a grenade. Panic spreads.
Napoli goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis doesn’t know what to do. Should he stay? Should he go? Thinking, like his defenders Miguel Britos and Hugo Campagnaro, that Fiorentina striker Luca Toni might get a head to it, he decides to go. It’s a mistake, a big mistake. Taking their eyes off the ball, all of them have misjudged its trajectory and look on in despair as it sails past their heads and into the empty net.
Rather than put the goal down to an error of judgement on de Sanctis’ part, which drew comparisons with that made by another Napoli goalkeeper, Claudio Garella, at the Artemio Franchi in the club’s Scudetto-winning 86-87 campaign, those Fiorentina fans stood in the Curva Fiesole instead believed this to be the latest example of the fear that Roncaglia induces in his fellow man.
Edi Cavani apparently wasn’t too scared. It was Roncaglia that he courageously challenged at the near post shortly before half-time, El Matador outmanoeuvring El Torito, the Little Bull, with a push forward and a step back to make the space for an equalising header, his 100th goal for Napoli, which earned a point for his team.
Standing on the sidelines in a club jacket and a purple polar neck, Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella wasn’t happy. Earlier in the week he had warned his defender—who, after being ever-present in his team for most of the season, had recently been left on the bench a few times—that he wasn’t “untouchable.” Read the rest of this entry »
Francesco Totti leads Roma to a well deserved victory in an early contender for match of the year.
Some curious decisions from both managers was the story before kickoff. Daniele De Rossi, returning from suspension, was left on the bench along with Pablo Osvaldo. Vincenzo Montella inserted Juan Cuadrado behind Luca Toni with Ruben Olivera in central midfield.
It didn’t take long for the fireworks (and canon shots, was not used to the canon) to begin. Panagiotis Tachtsidis connected on a Francesco Totti free kick in the 7th minute to open the scoring. Emiliano Viviano — who had a howler of a day — was caught ball watching on the play, something goal keepers probably shouldn’t do. With the goal Fiorentina conceded for the first time within 15 minutes of a match. Statz.
Seven minutes later the visitors would equalize thanks to a hilariously poor offside trap that resulted in three Viola players hanging out, unmarked in the box.Facundo Roncaglia finished a well worked passing play that left Mauro Goicoechea helpless. After a relatively dour slate of games — Swansea/Norwich aside — this fixture was the elixir for bored footy fans. Attacking football is fun football.
Francesco Totti is old. The 36-year-old is also still pretty damn good as Roma seized on Fiorentina’s willingness to sit back. Totti played an excellent give and go with Mattia Destro in the 19th minute to put Roma ahead once again. Zeman flashed a brief smile before being enveloped by his unruly hair. It was Totti’s 275th goal — he wasn’t done.
One minute later Olivera somehow avoided a red card after maliciously stomping on Miralem Pjanic. The midfielder escaped with a yellow and the unavoidable truth — he should’ve been gone.
We got a slice of superb defending along with the attacking fun. Gonzalo Rodriguez pulled off the rare double challenge, foiling Michael Bradley.
Speaking of the American, Bradley had an excellent half. Destro, Totti and Bradley sat comfortably in the final third, providing ample opportunities for Tachtsidis and Pjanic to add to the lead.
Totti would take matters into his own hands just before the halftime whistle. Goal number 276 was a swerving wonder strike that Viviano made much more complicated than it was. Nonetheless the goal had the Totti swagger that polarizes so many. You can’t hate what’s good.
Mercifully Olivera was subbed off to begin the second half. His replacement, Mounir El Hamdaoui, would cut the deficit to one just 15 seconds later. The super sub leached on to an excellent ball from Borja Valero. 3-2. Game on.
Roma continued to press forward. Rodriguez, once again, did a fantastic job blocking a Destro shot after Bradley was thwarted by Goicoechea. The Argentinian defender seemed to be the only Fiorentina player interested in defending on this day.
A relatively tame half was brought to life near the end. Luca Toni made way for Haris Seferovic, a move that emboldened the Viola attack. It’s worth asking if Montella waited too long in making the switch. Three clear cut chances, including a clearance off the line by Bradley indicated there was at least one more goal in this game.
There was, but unfortunately for the visitors it was not theirs. A magnificent Totti pass found the boot of Osvaldo — who replaced Destro — leaving Rodriguez in no man’s land. 4-2. What a game.
In the end we were treated to a wonderful display of attacking football. If you were trying to convince a friend/significant other/mortal enemy to get into Italian football, hopefully this game was used in the sell job. That was fun.
This time there was no tear in his eye. As Luca Toni wheeled away to celebrate scoring against Lazio on Sunday, his face betrayed nothing but that familiar goofy grin, accompanied, of course, by his trademark hand-cupping-ear gesture. After a five-year hiatus, the forward was back doing his thing in front of an adoring crowd at Fiorentina’s Stadio Artemio Franchi. Both he, and they, were revelling in the moment, with the Viola 2-0 up with just seconds left to play.
Toni had already re-opened his account a little over a month previously, in another 2-0 win over Catania. On as a substitute and making his first appearance of this second spell with the club, Toni had required less than a minute-and-a-half to find his way onto a Stevan Jovetic pass and gratefully slot it home from five yards out.
His joy on that occasion, though, was accompanied by so many other emotions that they could scarcely be processed. Less than three months earlier, Toni’s first child had been stillborn. This was his first competitive game of football since. After celebrating initially in his customary fashion before the home fans, he was seen to stop, kiss his hand and point to the sky.
“This goal is for everyone who stayed with me in these difficult months,” said Toni afterwards. “I dedicate it to those that are here and that those that are no longer with us.”
In the dark days that followed his son’s death, Toni had contemplated giving up football altogether. Out of contract following a six-month stint with Al Nasr in Dubai, he began to question his priorities. “I wanted to finish with football and find more time for [my partner] Marta,” he said. “But at times she was stronger than me. Over time I thought about it a lot and decided I wanted to close my career in a positive way.” Read the rest of this entry »