Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Sat 25 Aug Fiorentina 2-1 Udinese, Juventus 2-0 Parma Sun 26 Aug AC Milan 0-1 Sampdoria, Chievo 2-0 Bologna, Genoa 2-0 Cagliari, Palermo 0-3 Napoli, Pescara 0-3 Inter, AS Roma 2-2 Catania, Siena 0-0 Torino, Atalanta 0-1 Lazio.
The sight of an emotional Antonio Conte was common-place along the touchlines of Serie A last season, but for now the Juventus coach will have to content himself in taking his anger out in private.
Having not succeeded in overturning a 10-month ban for failing to report alleged illegal betting and by implication match-fixing at his former club, Siena, Conte has been left to rail against the perceived injustice of the legal system.
There is no doubt he feels his name has been dragged through the dirt to such an extent that he has lost all credibility within the game. Even though Juventus maintained the judgment was no more than a “witch-hunt”, a successful appeal - to be heard in September - will do little to change perceptions that he is damaged goods.
With the Italian game once more down in the dumps and seemingly unable to create a level playing field, there was a real need for the opening day to bring some late-summer warmth to to what was once described as the “most beautiful league in the world”.
Poorer, with the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, not to mention Alessandro Del Piero’s retirement, but potentially richer for the new generation including the likes of AC Milan striker Stephan El Shaarawy, Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and the much sought-after Mattia Destro, who joined the ongoing AS Roma revolution.
However, round one saw the old guard grab the headlines: Diego Milito set up two and scored one as Inter cruised to a 3-0 victory at newly-promoted Pescara, although not even he could prevent Antonio Cassano from stealing the show with a virtuoso display.
FantAntonio had left a trail of bitterness across the city of Milan when he made his switch from Milan to the Nerazzurri last week, accusing the Rossoneri hierarchy and Adriano Galliani in particular of, amongst other things, going back on their word in offering him a new improved contract.
Never one to hold his tongue and let bygones be bygones, but without actually mentioning Galliani by name, he claimed the person in a position above the coach was “all mouth and no trousers” and that was why he was now at his childhood-favourite team.
Milan, for their part, were rightly ticked off by the outburst, having essentially resurrected the player’s career, standing by him through his heart scare and ensuring he was at Euro 2012 for Italy.
Massimiliano Allegri said as much in his press conference ahead of the Sampdoria match, but last season’s runners-up have much more pressing issues to deal with.
Going down one-nil at home to newly-promoted Samp highlighted the lack of cohesion, not to mention quality, within the team. No surprise, given they have lost not only Ibra, Cassano and Silva, but also the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Rino Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta.
Galliani will fly to Madrid this week in the hope of sealing a loan deal to bring Riccardo Kakà back to the San Siro, but the team needs more than a quick-fit big-name signing if they are to avoid falling off the pace in the race for the title, where Napoli have started in the sort of form that could see Walter Mazzarri’s side join Inter in pushing for the title.
The Azzurri also hit three goals without reply, in Palermo, where Marek Hamsik scored a cracking drive and Edinson Cavani netted the third, with the diminutive Insigne giving notice that Lavezzi’s departure may not be greatly damaging.
It is also a season of innovation in the Italian game, with 12 players allowed on the bench, which could well create some logistical problems at the smaller stadiums. However, only three changes can be made, which could leave for a few coaches in earshot of grumbling fringe players who in the past would have been sitting in the stands.
Another new advancement has seen the introduction of a fifth official, one of which was immediately called into action at Juventus, where he adjudged that Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante had dragged Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick over the line after initially blocking what had been no more than a side-footed effort.
The video replays were inconclusive so the official, who was only a few yards away, must have got it right. Juve were already ahead through Stephan Lichtsteiner – and even with a little help from the official they were never really extended.
The same could not be said of Zdenek Zeman’s new-look Roma, who at times made Luis Enrique’s side of last year seem an airtight defensive unit. Catania looked set to secure all three points, having twice taken the lead, but teenage substitute Nico Lopez popped up to nab a last-gasp equaliser.
Before that Pablo Osvaldo had scored a stunning scissor-kick to draw the Giallorossi level. With the home defence all over the place, Zemanlandia will never be for the faint-hearted and on the evidence of the first day that could well be the case right through the league.
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