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Italy bumble forward, clubs stumble, Inter dominate

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm

ROME, Dec 21, 2009 (AFP) – It has not been a great footballing year in Italy despite the world champions’ qualification for next year’s World Cup in South Africa.








England coach Fabio Capello, an Italian

In fact, probably the greatest Italian successes have been by expats.


Fabio Capello has turned England into genuine World Cup contenders and Giovanni Trapattoni took a hotch-potch Ireland team to the brink of the finals.


Carlo Ancelotti started his Chelsea career in excellent fashion and even unheralded pair Andrea Barzagli and Cristian Zaccardo helped VfL Wolfsburg win a first ever German title.


But back home, Italian football has been stagnating.


Italy did qualify for the World Cup but were far from impressive in doing so, despite winning their group.


They really had little in terms of comeptition with a Bulgaria team over-reliant on the inconsistent Dimitar Berbatov and an Ireland that can’t put out a team made up entirely of Premier League players.


Italy struggled to beat the likes of Cyprus and Georgia, although they did manage to do the double over both, and needed a last gasp equaliser in Dublin to secure their progress.


Their Confederations Cup campaign was an embarrassment with a 1-0 defeat to Egypt and a 3-0 thrashing at Brazil’s hands ensuring they did not even make it past the group stage.


This last year also saw Italian clubs record their worst ever performance in the Champions League since the European Cup was changed to allow non-champions into the competition.


Fiorentina didn’t even make it out of their group while Inter Milan, Juventus and AS Roma all crashed out in the second round — all to English opposition.


Not one Italian team in the quarter-finals was a first in Champions League history.


And they fared worse in the UEFA Cup as even AC Milan could not go very far, losing to Werder Bremen on away goals in the last 32, the same round that saw Sampdoria and Fiorentina exit to leave no Italian teams involved in Europe beyond the beginning of March.


So to domestic matters and it was a successful entry into Italian football for the self-styled ‘Special One’ Jose Mourinho.


Taking over from the sacked Roberto Mancini — for whom three straight Serie A titles proved inadequate — he made it four in a row for Inter but his failure to get the team beyond the second round in Europe saw him under pressure right from the off in his second season.


Inter have won only four out of 14 Champions League matches under Mourinho and although he guided them through the group stages again this season, having drawn Chelsea in the second round — a year on from pulling Manchester United out of the hat — his job is again looking slightly insecure.


But in Serie A they have been untouchable, winning the 2008/09 title by 10 points from Milan and Juventus, the three traditional powerhouses returning to the top three positions for the first time since the 2006 calciopoli match-fixing scandal that hit Milan and Juve hard.


It was helped too by AS Roma’s demise as the cash-strapped club consistently fail to find adequate replacements for the stars that leave.


The first half of the current season has been much the same. Hype and hope for Milan and Juve but in the end neither looks capable of pushing Inter to the wire.


Mourinho’s team head into the Christmas break with an eight-point lead.


The two highest-profile foreign players both left Italy in the summer heading for Spain in big-money moves.


Kaka left Milan for Real Madrid and Zlatan Ibrahimovic quit Inter for Barcelona, although Samuel Eto’o’s arrival in return has softened the blow, the Cameroon forward proving more prolific than the Swede.


The biggest arrival, though, was David Beckham on a half-season loan to Milan in January, a move he will repeat in 2010.


Beckham was largely a success, not least for his attitude and application, and brought some much-needed attention and glamour to Italy.


But even so, he didn’t help Milan’s results improve.


It all leaves little to get excited about in 2010. Once again a dreadful Champions League second round draw means that no-one will be surprised to see Inter, Milan and Fiorentina — Juve failed to even make the knock-outs — bite the dust.


There’s nothing either to suggest that the Serie A trophy need be taken out of its current cabinet and even at the World Cup, if Italy play to their form, they’ll do well to make the quarter-finals.


But that might just be the spark they need for a 2006-style stumble all the way to victory — Italy’s last two World Cup triumphs coming in the wake of turbulent build-ups.


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Barcelona, Inter Milan on brink of last 16

In Vietnam Sports on December 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm

PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) – Holders Barcelona can secure a place in the Champions League knockout stage even if they lose at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, but Inter Milan face a winner-takes-all home encounter with Rubin Kazan.


All four teams in Group F will go into their final group games with hopes of going through, but it is pool leaders Barcelona who hold the strongest hand.








Wesley Sneijder of Inter Milan celebrates after scoring against FC Dynamo Kiev during their UEFA Champions League, Group F match in Kiev, on November 4. (AFP photo)

Pep Guardiola’s side have slipped into top gear in recent weeks, defeating Inter 2-0 in their last Champions League assignment and edging domestic rivals Real in the first ‘Clasico’ of the season.


“This is the biggest game of our season so far and it will define the rest of our season,” said Guardiola after his side’s 3-1 win at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday evening.


“I’m confident that we will preform well. We cannot go out of Europe and we have to finish top of our group.”


Barca can afford to lose by any two-goal scoreline other than 2-0 in Kiev, due to their 2-0 victory over the Ukrainians in the reverse fixture, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw will be enough for Inter at home to freshly crowned Russian champions Kazan as long as Dynamo do not win.


Inter’s lead at the top of Serie A was cut to four points when they lost 2-1 at Juventus on Saturday but they will be bolstered by the return to fitness of Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder.


“We are disappointed because we wanted to win the big game against Juventus,” said Inter’s Brazilian international goalkeeper Julio Cesar.


“However, we still have a four-point advantage in the league and now we have to think about the UEFA Champions League game on Wednesday. It’s like a final for us and we are ready for it.”


Liverpool’s catastrophic exit from the competition made the headlines in Group E, with Fiorentina travelling to Anfield on Wednesday knowing that victory will secure top spot in the group ahead of Lyon.


With Liverpool already assured of a place in the Europa League, coach Rafael Benitez is likely to use the visit of the Viola to test the fitness of Fernando Torres and hand a first start to Italian summer signing Alberto Aquilani.


“Hopefully Torres will be ready this week – I don’t know if he will play or be on the bench,” said Benitez.


“Aquilani will maybe start the game, we are considering this.”


Should Fiorentina fail to beat Liverpool, Lyon must win by two goals at home to the group’s bottom side Debrecen to snatch top spot and secure a potentially favourable draw in the last 16.


Romanians Unirea Urziceni will qualify for the knockout phase in their first ever Champions League season if they draw at Stuttgart in Group G.


The German side sacked coach Markus Babbel over the weekend after a 1-1 draw at home to fellow strugglers Bochum left them third from bottom in the Bundesliga.


Babbel was swiftly replaced by Swiss coach Christian Gross, who must inspire his charges to victory over Dan Petrescu’s side if they are to reach the next stage.


“I am here to save what is left to save,” Gross said at his introductory press conference. “I want to take the team back onto the path of success.”


Group leaders Sevilla will seal top spot with a point at home to Rangers, who were knocked out of European competition altogether when they lost 2-0 at home to Stuttgart in their last game.


Arsenal sewed up Group H with a 2-0 win at home to Standard Liege last time out and Arsene Wenger’s men travel to an Olympiakos side that needs a point to progress.


Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar, who sacked coach Ronald Koeman at the weekend, cannot make the next round but will take the Europa League qualifying spot with victory at Standard Liege.


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Last-gasp Sneijder sends Inter top

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 6:52 am

KIEV, Nov 4, 2009 (AFP) – Wesley Sneijder struck a dramatic late winner to earn Inter Milan a 2-1 comeback victory over Dynamo Kiev in their Champions League clash at the Lobanovskiy Stadium here on Wednesday.


Kiev led until the 86th minute, when Diego Milito equalised, and with a minute of normal time to play Sneijder converted from close range after home goalkeeper Stanislav Bogush let Sulley Muntari’s strike get away from him.








Samuel Eto’o of FC Inter (C) fights for a ball with Stanislav Bogush (L) and Yevgen Khacheridi (R) of Dynamo Kiev during UEFA Champions League, Group F football match with FC Dynamo in Kiev on November 4, 2009. Milan won 2-1. AFP PHOTO

Barcelona’s earlier 0-0 draw at Russian champions Rubin Kazan means Inter, who started the day bottom of the group, now have a one-point lead at the top of Group F with two matches to play.


“It was a fantastic performance, with heart, emotion, desire and unity,” said Inter coach Jose Mourinho, whose side had gone eight matches without a win in the competition.


“I’ve done some quick calculations and I think that nine points will be enough (to qualify for the last 16). We have six, we need three more.


“Things would have been much more complicated with a draw or a defeat.


“It gives belief to the team and, I hope, the fans, who will all have to be there for our last match against Rubin Kazan. We must win this match at home.”


Andriy Shevchenko’s strike mid-way through the first half looked to have earned Kiev a significant victory over Inter and Mourinho, who brought the Ukrainian striker to Chelsea when manager of the Premier League side in 2006.


The Portuguese coach sent on Thiago Motta and Mario Balotelli at half-time as Inter sought an equaliser but it was centre-back Walter Samuel who wasted the first chance to level when he headed wide from Sneijder’s free-kick.


Samuel Eto’o spurned an even better opportunity with 25 minutes to go when he headed wide from barely two yards after Samuel’s flick-on, before the Argentine defender thumped a diving header against the post.


Inter bombarded the Kiev penalty area, Balotelli placing a shot narrowly wide of the right-hand upright and Eto’o missing with another header but with time running out Milito collected Sneijder’s pass before firing past Bogush.


Kiev’s defensive work was then undone completely in the 89th minute, Bogush spilling substitute Muntari’s effort and Milito squaring for Sneijder to tap home.


Sneijder had come close to giving Inter an early lead when he saw a left-footed effort whistle over the Kiev crossbar in the second minute.


Milos Ninkovic responded with a tame effort that drifted wide as the hosts struggled to get men forward before Eto’o blasted over for Inter after latching onto Milito’s headed pass.


Shevchenko had been largely subdued but he sparked into life to put Kiev in front in the 21st minute with a shot from the edge of the penalty area that stunned Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar by dipping beneath the crossbar.


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