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Frank Tigani On February - 23 - 2012

Inter the Only Blight on a Great Week for Calcio

It was barely two years ago that Inter, guided by the inextricable genius of Jose Mourinho, were the proud torch bearers of Italian football. As Milan were embarrassingly crushed 4-0 at Manchester United and as Juventus failed to even progress past the group stages, against the odds, the Nerazzurri overcame Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea as they went on to claim European football’s most coveted prize, the Champions League.

As the old cliché goes, a week in football is a long time. It follows that a month must be even longer still, six months perhaps a lifetime and a year, and definitely two years, an eternity. And an eternity it must feel like for the faithful blue half of Milan. After becoming the first Italian side in history to win a most impressive treble (Serie A, Coppa Italia and the European Cup), Inter’s malaise has gone from one crisis to the next.

Since the ‘Special One’ departed in the summer of 2010 for Real Madrid, club president Massimo Moratti has traded coaches as if he were trading high risk stocks. No less than four managers have taken to the hot-seat at Appiano Gentile, including their current and under-fire boss Claudio Ranieri.

A late rally last season saw Inter claim second spot in the Serie A and automatic qualification for the Champions League. Currently in seventh place, a similar resurgence is needed if they are to qualify for Europe at all.

Despite an upturn in their form over the Christmas period, Inter have again lost their footing as three consecutive league losses attests too. With their domestic campaign floundering again, Wednesday night’s round of 16 Champions League clash with Olympique Marseille represented a chance for Claudio Ranieri to redeem his wavering position at the club and the team’s own wavering fortunes. It was not to be.

Following the two emphatic wins by Napoli and Milan – both achieved over English opposition no less – the 2010 Champions League winners’ defeat to Marseille blighted an otherwise most memorable week for calcio.

It may have taken a very late strike in virtually the last minute of play that will enable the French side to take a one-goal advantage to the San Siro, but, most will feel Inter got what they deserved.

Even with Wesley Sneijder back in the fold, Inter seemed to lack ideas as they created few chances. Meanwhile, Marseille dominated possession and created more than twice the chances as their more illustrious opponents. Their late winner was almost certainly deserved.

While Inter’s campaign on the European front has begun to reflect their domestic bid, their city rivals Milan put on a show that will put the rest of Europe on high alert.

Of Napoli and Milan’s two success, it was the latter whose performance stood out the most. The Rossoneri’s 4-0 destruction of Arsenal reinvigorated memories of the Rossoneri’s once unflappable and dominant standing amongst the continental elites. Barring a disaster to rival their mauling by United at Old Trafford two years ago, Milan should qualify for the quarter finals.

Similarly, Napoli’s 3-1 defeat over perhaps a greater adversary in Chelsea has put them well on course to follow in Milan’s footsteps. Given they were able to hold Manchester City – the Premier League leaders – to a draw at the Ettihad Stadium, recording a similar result at Stamford Bridge, which would be enough to progress, is well within their means.

Napoli and Milan’s two victories will have many proclaiming the re-emergence of Italian football whilst just as many will be warning of the decline of the English game. In fact, this fussing about has already started.

In a season where Juventus has finally emerged from its Calciopoli-induced slumber, where Milan have reasserted themselves on the grandest stage and where Napoli are allowing us all to dream, not to mention Roma’s Barcelona-esque transformation, there is maybe some credence to the view that Italian football is back on the rise.

But, it is perhaps preferable to irk on the side of caution rather than become hysterical about such a notion. There is no doubting, Inter’s defeat aside, that the past week of Champions League action has been a great one for the Serie A.

However, it was barely weeks ago that Italian football was brought to a virtual halt because of the freezing weather conditions that exposed the archaic state of Italy’s stadia. And this is just the tip of the iceberg too. Not to mention that this season the Serie A is being awarded just three Champions League spots in consequence to the overall poor showing of Italian teams in the last five years of European competition.

In 2010 Inter’s European triumph shed some light on what was a dark period for Italy’s national game following the 2006 scandal. Inter’s success then served to remind Europe that Italy remains a great footballing nation. Their loss to Marseille this week will serve to caution those ready to declare that Italian football is back

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