Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Ryan Ross On April - 30 - 2012

Italy’s Race For Third and Europe

As the Serie A once more draws to a close, many clubs are nearing the finish line in their respective races. Whether it’s Juventus or AC Milan striving for the Scudetto. Or Novara, Lecce, Genoa and Fiorentina battling to avoided dreaded relegation to Serie B. The most exciting race is that for third place; which will grant Champion’s League football to its respective winner.

There are five sides competing in the race for Europe; each with their strengths and weaknesses. They have battled for over nine months, scratching and clawing along their chosen paths, until finally with only three games remaining, the end is in sight. As Pheidippides, the legendary Greek soldier, who ran twenty-five miles from Marathon to Athens pronouncing victory for his countrymen over Persia, once did; each side is nearing completion of their marathon.

A side from Naples, who possess an attacking trio capable of making any man weak at the knees, aim to create a new history. Another from Udine, rely upon the magic feet of a thirty-five year old Italian to levitate their team. A side from Milan, living in their neighbour’s shadow and wondering where it all went wrong? And a pair from the Capital city of Rome, bitter rivals who are locked into an eternal struggle; blue versus red. These five must determine who is to be Italy’s third competitor in the glamorous Champion’s League next season.

Napoli have experienced the kind of season their fans would have dreamt of as they grew from young to old. It was a fairytale which had to be muddied by the harsh realities of modern football. The fairytale was carried out on the European stage, where in their debut campaign, they qualified from the so called “group of death.” Including victories over Villarreal and Manchester City were stand-put moments. Their reward had been to draw Chelsea in the last-sixteen stage. An sensational 3-1 first leg victory at the San Paolo over the English side should have been enough for passage into the next round. But a 4-1 defeat in extra-time saw the Neapolitans crash out in the second leg. Domestically their form has yo-yoed. An early 3-1 win over AC Milan displayed their strength, but a lack of rotation and depth in squad cost them as they dropped points throughout November, also March and April. But after wins over Novara and Lecce they sit in third place, with a crucial head-to-head advantage against their competitors. Walter Mazarri will believe their attacking trio will secure third.

Udinese saw a title-challenge slip from their grasp, the disappearance of their African players from January until March, combined with injury to Di Natale and Isla dealt a telling blow. In the early stages, it looked like the Zebrette’s Captain, Di Natale, would spearhead a title charge. Impressive wins over Inter, Roma and a draw at home to Juventus fuelled confidence. But in January defeats against Chievo, Genoa and Juventus halted progress. It was clear that the side relied too heavily upon their Captain, who aged 35, could not make the difference in every match. But mainly thanks to rivals dropping points, Udinese are still standing in the race. With matches against Cesena, Genoa and Catania to come, they will feel confident one last push will secure third spot.

Internazionale have fallen to their owner’s follies once more, as the enigmatic Gian Piero Gasperini was cast aside to make way for the adorable Claudio Ranieri. Who in turn felt his master’s cold hand when he was dismissed in March, with the youthful Andrea Stramacionni appointed to halt Inter’s attempt to fall on their own sword. And Stramacionni has created another miracle with a shambolic Inter side; since his appointment they are 6 games unbeaten and have closed the gap to third place from 10 points to 0, with only a head-to-head record preventing them from getting third. The side now play with a panache longed for by adoring fans and it would be no surprise to see them cross the finish line as victors. Labelled the proverbial ‘dark-horse,’ write the Beneamata off at your peril.

Lazio thought that the arrival of ‘Salto-Klose’ would lift them to new heights, not reached by the Aquile for many years. Indeed an impressive start to the campaign saw the Biancocelesti soar towards the pinnacle of Serie A, with may questioning whether they could become genuine title contenders? However, injury to Klose, Hernanes’ drop in form, combined with a falling out between manager Edy Reja and the fans, saw Lazio stutter. Two of their players becoming embroiled in a match-fixing crisis has not aided the cause. They have to play Siena, Atalanta and Inter over the next few weeks and given the current injury crisis, it is unlikely they will succeed. Yet they have proved the doubters wrong all season, so anything is possible.

Lastly, AS Roma’s takeover by the Americans: Thomas DiBenedetto and James Pallotta was supposed to create a new project. The Spaniard, Luis Enrique appointed to restore pride to the Giallorossi and change how Romans thought about football. The likes of Bojan Krkić, Jose Angel and Erik Lamela were added to the squad, all thought to be quick-thinking players, capable of adapting to Enrique’s high-tempo, pressing tactics. What has emerged is a Jekyll and Hyde team, capable of destroying Internazionale 4-0, but losing 4-1 to Atalanta. The board have indicated continued support of Enrique and refuse to sack him. But the fans have turned on Enrique and booed their side throughout last weekend’s 2-2 draw with rivals Napoli. Are they down and out? Enrique must devise a method to overcome Chievo, Catania and Cesena to keep the ship afloat.

So who shall win the race for Europe? Each side has experienced a memorable season, for better or worse, and they can have the prize or consolation of Champion’s League football for 2012/13. Will Napoli continue their fairytale? Can Udinese give Di Natale one more chance to showcase his talent in Europe’s spotlight? Will Internazionale complete their miracle with the consolation of third place? Will Lazio fall out of contention in the final weeks? Or will Roma take everyone by surprise and steal a march on their rivals to complete the marathon?

I have a favourite to emerge in third place and win, but these things are best kept a secret.

Ryan Ross

I became enthralled with Calcio back in the 90’s, when James Richardson presented Football Italia. My early mornings were spent following the trials and tribulations of Internazionale, during a period where they always flattered to deceive. It took a Frenchman to get me hooked though; Youri Djorkaeff, my favourite player of all time. This guy was key to Inter’s midfield, never mind his role in France’s World Cup win in 1998! I have a keen interest in Calcio’s rich history.

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