Thursday, March 16, 2017

Italy March 2017

A busy weekend of five games including Serie A clashes between Juventus and Milan plus the Genoa derby.

10th March 2017  Juventus 2 AC Milan 1  Serie A  40,573 (c. 2,500 away)

As I stayed near Porta Susa in Turin one option to get to the Juventus stadium is to take the 72 bus and this what I did.
Within 30 minutes or so you arrive at what used to be the fairly unloved Stadio delle Alpi.

For your correspondent it was a revisit but the transformation remains inspiring.
The memories of the events in the old, inappropriate, structure are still there not least that perfectly weighted pass from Maradona to set Claudio Caniggia free for the Argentina winning goal against Brazil in Italia ‘90.

But now in 2017 an evening at the superb new stadium is an event, a production. highlighting the presentation of the Juve ‘brand’.
Music, a light show and the club song all feature in the build up.
It portrays a club at the top of its game well above the rest of the Italian teams and confident in its place among the European elite.

That was the preamble, the reality nearly turned out less certain as AC, especially in the second half, threatened to spoil the party.

Juve had led when Medhi Benatia was adjudged to be onside when scoring from close in.
Milan complained at the lack of a flag and they definitely had more grief to come.

As the first period drew to a close it seemed that the home side would go in ahead but with a few minutes remaining ex-Everton wide man Deulofeu broke down the left and set up Carlos Bacca for a low finish past Buffon.
That was against the run of play but after the break AC held their own and looked destined for a point.

Although prolific striker Gonzalo Higuain often produced shots on goal he was always thwarted by young goalie (and presumably eventual successor to Buffon) Donnarumma.

Eventually the officials indicated four added minutes at the end of the match and the time ran down past that point.
Though the dismissal of Jose Sosa for two yellows would have increased that extra period.

Thus Juve were allowed a corner and from the resulting cross captain De Sciglio was signalled to have handled.
It looked harsh as he had his arm down by his side and certainly not in an ‘unnatural’ position.

When the protests had died down the impressive Paulo Dybala decisively struck home the penalty.

The sports paper La Gazzetta were still debating the controversies some days later.

But ultimately it meant Juve had the three points and the Scudetto, as well as a strong run in the Champions League, was again within their grasp.

Back near Porta Susa I nursed some vino rosso while watching the highlights on TV.

11th March  Carrarese 6 Racing Roma 0  Lega Pro   820

And so to Tuscany and the city of Carrara, famous for its marble and for being the birthplace of Giorgio Chinaglia, Cristiano Zanetti and the aforementioned Gianluigi Buffon.
Back in the day the locals tended to favour the Ghibellines over the Guelphs.

On this sunny afternoon at the Stadio dei Marmi they would give good support to their local team as they easily overcame a poor, likely to be relegated, Racing team.

Three goals in each half with two each for Miracoli and Floriano gave the home side a facile victory against a very porous defence.
I admired the mountain backdrop while watching the goals go in.

Then it was a brisk walk back to Carrara Avenza station and a connection to Massa for the fast train back to Genoa.
In Italy there is always some doubt about making train connections but on this trip they all worked fine.

11th March  Genoa 0 Sampdoria 1  Serie A  31,190 (c. 12,000 away)

Once in Genoa Brignole I joined the Sampdoria throng making their way to the Luigi Ferraris, alongside the river.
The stadium remains one of the most atmospheric in Italy with its four steep sides (although the corners pieces could do with removing) and passionate fans positioned at either end.

At least in this country you can see a derby with large numbers of away fans.
And it certainly produces a memorable atmosphere.

We had intense noise, choreo, fireworks and plenty of flares.
Much as ever was at stake and as is often the case that has an affect on the quality of the on-pitch entertainment.
Not many passes arrived at their intended destination.

It took a mistake by Ntcham, with twenty minutes remaining, to give Colombian striker Luis Muriel the chance to drive home the winner and spark tremendous celebrations amongst his squad and fans.

It was a harsh lesson for the French midfielder who otherwise had been part of a solid effort by the underdogs.
Genoa had a few opportunities themselves but each time Samp. goalie Viviano remained in control.

Towards the end in a hectic finale the home side became desperate but couldn’t carve out the necessary chance and if anything Sampdoria might have added another through the talented Czech sub. Patrik Schick.
He looks a player to follow for the future as might Uruguayan Lucas Torreira.

It was not the first such derby to be remembered for the atmosphere, and for a single error that decided the outcome.
Those in blue, this time, could revel in the local bragging rights.

12th March  Chievo Verona 4 Empoli 0  Serie A  9,000 (c. 120 away)

In contrast seeing Chievo play in Verona the following day was much more low key though the passing was thankfully back to normal.
Particularly for the home side.

Empoli clearly have problems scoring goals, having managed just 15 in the league this season.
Perhaps having the ageing Maccarone up front doesn’t help.
He certainly looked past his sell-by date and his substitution in the second half hardly came as a surprise.
Not that his replacement, Mame Thiam, did much better.

One player that did look a prospect was Empoli’s defensive midfielder Assane Diousse.

The Flying Donkeys got the job done with two goals in each half beginning with a nice volley from striker Inglese.
Sergio Pellissier diverted in a Birsa effort before the break for number two.
Birsa himself added the third and another Slovenian, Botjan Cesar applied the coupe de grace in the closing minutes.

Just about all Empoli had to show was a DiMarco shot that struck the post.

It had been a comfortable victory for Chievo on a sunny afternoon.

12th March  Forli 1 Lumezzane 3  Lega Pro  c. 700

Afterwards a short stroll to the station for the train to Bologna then on to Forli, in Romagna.

Again the logistics worked fine as I arrived about an hour prior to the 8.30pm kick-off and in good time to drop my bag off at the hotel and go on to the Stadio Tullo Morgagni.
Which features that unusual velodrome banking at either end, an open stand for the ultras, and a raised main stand.
Like many in Italy you would not build it like that now.

Both these sides needed the points but it was the visitors who prevailed going 2-0 up after 41 minutes with both coming from forward Bacio Terracino.
Although the home side managed a reply just before the break, a header from a corner, they came up against a solid defence and a competent goalie.

In the end Lumezzane were able to net a third after sub. Marra forced home from close range at the second attempt.

By then it had become distinctly chilly and I was glad to warm up back at the hotel

The next day I was on the train back to Milan and on to Linate (with an ‘American’ style cappuccino from Arnold Coffee) for the BA flight back to London.

It had been fairly hectic, without any hot meals (apart from a hot dog in the Genoa stadium), but featuring some memorable football experiences.

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