Italy is a country filled with contradictions. It was the home to one of the most prominent Fascist governments in first half of the 20th century but at the same time boasted of the largest Communist party in Western Europe. These sharp contradictions spill over to football as well and have made Italian football or Calcio, as it is called in the peninsula, one of the most unique football cultures in the world. In Italy, Fantasia, the art of using one’s imagination on the field is combined seamlessly with Fubrizia, which focuses on the darker arts of taking advantage of loopholes in the rules. It is a country where refereeing decisions are analyzed and re-analyzed for hours by slowing down replays to microscopic amounts. On Saturday, Italian football’s many contradictions once again came to the forefront when Juventus travelled to Bologna.
On the field, the Old Lady was ruthless. Mirko Vucinic and Sebastien Giovinco were combining well for once while the defence never looked likely to concede a goal. Gianluca Curci pulled off a couple of smart stops in each half to deny Juventus goals but the visiting team always looked the more likely one to find the net. The goal finally came just after the hour-mark when the much maligned Mirko Vucinic collected Claudio Marchisio’s pass, turned his marker and shot past Curci from a close range. The same combination worked once again eleven minutes later, this time Vucinic turning the provider as Marchisio doubled Juve’s lead. It was a commanding performance from Juventus, possibly their best match in Serie A in last month. They now had a 12 point lead at the top and Antonio Conte was seen making celebratory gestures towards the away fans before the final whistle went off.
It was Conte’s gestures which made the post-game headlines. Not Juventus’ performance. Not the fact that Juventus team bus was once again pelted with stones on their way to the stadium, a repeat of their last away trip to Naples. Not the fact that some controversial banners related to Heysel tragedy and death of Gianni Agnelli were removed from the stands before the match. After the match it seemed as if the main topic of discussion was Conte’s celebration which was deemed as showing “lack of respect” by Bologna coach, despite the fact that Conte sought out Stefano Pioli to shake hands once the match was over. Such was the ruckus over this incident that even former Inter star Marco Materazzi came out in Conte’s support on Twitter. Juventus do have an uneasy relationship with Bologna. Even last year FIGC opened an investigation when Bologna fans mocked former Juventus player and current official Gianluca Pessotto’s suicide attempt in 2006. Conte was so incensed with this episode that he had this to say in post-match interview – “If I have to expect a welcome like this in Bologna, then I say that it really makes me want to leave Italy and go abroad. It must be a simpler life elsewhere.” – Not a statement that will dispel the “Conte to join Chelsea” rumours.
Elsewhere too, it was an eventful week in Serie A. Catania had slumped to a heart-breaking late loss against Juventus in the last match but they bounced back in style by defeating Udinese 3-1. Gli Elefanti still remain in the hunt for European spots with this win on Saturday but it may be the end of the road for Udinese, who are likely to miss out on European football next season. Francesco Lodi, who turns 29 this week, has been outstanding for Catania in past 2 seasons and scored one of the goals in this victory.
Juventus’ win increased the pressure on Napoli who had to break a month long winless streak in Serie A to mathematically keep pace with the leaders. They made a good start to their home game against Atalanta when Edinson Cavani broke his eight match goal-less streak by converting a controversial penalty kick early in the match. Napoli created a number of chances but somehow managed to find the score-line 1-1 as some calamitous defending led to an own goal from Cannavaro. Cavani scored once again on 65th minute to restore Napoli’s lead, only for German Denis to equalize eight minutes later. Goran Pandev’s goal, which ended his long bad patch, eventually proved to be the difference as Napoli scrambled home with an unconvincing albeit important win.
Mario Balotelli was once again inspirational as AC Milan chalked up a comfortable 2-0 win against Palermo. Balotelli converted an early penalty and extended his laudable record of never missing a spot kick in Serie A or EPL. He scored a tap in from six yards in second half to ensure all three points. AC Milan’s victory means that they are still unbeaten in Serie A in 2013, quite an achievement given their nightmarish start to the season. Maurizio Zamparini’s comic firing of managers every season finally seems to have caught up with Palermo and the Sicilians would need a miracle to avoid relegation this season. Palermo’s loss, coupled with Pescara’s home loss against Chievo makes the single point gained by Siena after their goal-less draw against Cagliari, all the more important. On current form the Bianconeri seem best equipped to avoid the drop. For Pescara, relegation is all but confirmed. The Delfini won Serie B on a canter last season but losing Zdenek Zeman along with Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti eventually proved a tide too high to scale for them.
Genoa fought back twice but eventually bowed to Mattia Cassani’s own goal on 77th minute, to lose 3-2 in Florence. Fiorentina have now won three games on the bounce and will look to make a late surge for third spot. With the Roman teams losing steam and Inter out of sorts, it looks like Napoli, Fiorentina and AC Milan will be prime contenders for the remaining two Champions League slots.
The Roman clubs had contrasting fortunes as they both kicked off late on Sunday. Francesco Totti scored his 226th Serie A goal helping the Lupi to a 2-0 win over Parma. Lazio on the other hand, slumped to a solitary goal against Torino. Both clubs remain on 47 points, 18 points behind Juventus. However, both of them have chance to win some silverware this season. Lazio have already reached the Coppa Italia final and find themselves in Europa league quarter-final after a series of strong performances in it. Roma, on the other hand, are also well placed to reach Coppa final after winning against Inter in the first leg of the semi-final.
Inter’s trip to Sampdoria was postponed amidst flood alert in Genova. With AC Milan, Fiorentina, Napoli and Roma’s wins, there will be more pressure on the Nerazzurri to win all three points in this encounter.