It is Verona v Milan this weekend, here is how the game looked in December 2000.

#1093166 / gettyimages.com

The match finished 1-1 that day with goals from Emiliano Bonazzoli and Massimo Ambrosini.

#1093125 / gettyimages.com

Milan finished the season in sixth place, Verona would have to go through a play-off to ensure their Serie A survival


He should have been happy, but instead it all spilled over into frustration. Christian ‘Bobo’ Vieri had broken the deadlock for Italy in their vital Euro 2004 qualifier with Azerbaijan in Reggio Calabria but he was not pleased to be hooked by Giovanni Trapattoni early in the second half. Maybe it was the two disallowed goals to add to the one which stood which provoked his ire. Whatever it was, he vented his anger at the substitution with a kick at a nearby bottle of water in the direction of his manager.

It brought back memories, for some, of another act of revolt many years earlier.  Giorgio Chinaglia could not accept being replaced by Ferruccio Valcareggi during Italy versus Haiti at the 1974 World Cup and was not slow in letting his feelings show. His gestures to the bench clearly indicated his displeasure. A few saw echoes of that in Vieri’s actions.

It was a bum note in an otherwise pitch perfect performance by the Azzurri. They had previously made first place, and automatic qualification, more complicated than it should have been. Defeat at the outset of the campaign against Wales had left them in a sticky situation. It would mean that they needed a win in their last game to guarantee progress - while Wales locked horns at home with Serbia and Montenegro. Just a point separated Italy and the Welsh at the top of the group.

But the final outcome was hardly ever in doubt. Big Bobo put the Azzurri ahead within 15 minutes at the end of a slick move involving Cristiano Zanetti and Mauro Camoranesi. Meanwhile, in Wales, Zvonimr Vukic had taken even less time to give the visitors the lead. What might have been a dramatic evening, turned into something of a procession for Trap’s team.

John Hartson would level to revive Welsh hopes but by that stage Pippo Inzaghi had already met a Massimo Oddo cross to double a lead that the Italians would never relinquish. With top spot now impossible, Wales would concede late goals and end up losing 3-2 and heading to the play-offs while Italy powered on to a comfortable 4-0 triumph courtesy of a Marco Di Vaio strike - a first for his country for the man who replaced Vieri - and a second from Inzaghi as he latched on to a lovely long Francesco Totti through ball.

After the game, the Roma man assessed his team’s prospects in Portugal. “We have a very strong attack, a balanced midfield and a fast and attentive defence,” said Totti. “With this group of players we can achieve anything. You really enjoy yourself playing in a team like this - and part of that is down to the extraordinary Vieri-Inzaghi double act up front. And don’t forget Del Piero is on his way back.”

"But I won’t make predictions," he insisted. "It is too early to say we will win the European Nations but I’d be surprised if we did not make the last four.

"A year on from our defeat in Wales a lot of things have changed - not just for us but for Trapattoni as well. We have found the right balance in our tactics and in the dressing room.

"The squad looks more uniform, with options in every position which allow us not to suffer too much when important players are out, which you need to take in account. June would be the right time to get over the disappointment of the World Cup and Euro 2000. We lost twice on the Golden Goal - two cruel jokes."

There would be no immediate redemption, however, for Totti and company. That Euro 2004 tournament would end in the kind of frustration that had many fans kicking more than a water bottle. Denmark and Sweden played out their famous 2-2 which guaranteed the Azzurri were sent home to lick their wounds at the group stages. They would have to wait a couple of years - for the World Cup in Germany in 2006 - to finally show what they worth.

Italy: Buffon; Oddo, Cannavaro, Nesta (76 Ferrari), Zambrotta; Camoranesi (86 Gattuso), Perrotta, Zanetti; Totti; Vieri (55 Di Vaio), Inzaghi.

Azerbaijan:  Kramarenko (57 Hasanzade) K Guliyev, Kerimov, Yadullayev, Agaev, Imamaliyev, Sadygov, Gurbanov (82 Mammadov) , E Guliyev, Tagizade (73 Vasiliyev) Aliyev.

Goals: 15 Vieri, 23 & 86 Inzaghi, 64 Di Vaio.


The Happy Doonhamer - TheInsideLeft


Some of my greatest goal celebrations have been in my kitchen. It sits between the two rooms in the house with a television, making it the natural theatre for my displays of scoring delight. Lately, however, when watching Fiorentina, the vinyl floor has remained largely untouched by the patter of joy-filled feet.

First Giuseppe Rossi got long-term injured, then Mario Gomez couldn’t score and got hurt and now the rest of the team seems unable to find the net. In four Serie A matches, only Jasmim Kurtic has found the net. In that quartet of games, only Roma could be said to represent opposition of the highest level - with all due respect to Genoa, Atalanta and Sassuolo.

There was the brief, heady relief of Europe, of course and a 3-0 thumping of Guingamp but the rest of this campaign’s early stages has been gloriously monotonous. Credit to the Bergamaschi, they did come out to play a bit and were unlucky not to find a goal. But Genoa and Sassuolo both formed the kind of defensive lines in Florence which the Viola no longer have the guile, grit or just good fortune to break down.

Alibi number one - the loss of their dream striking duo, assembled at some expense - is more than valid. Imagine any team shorn of its top two strikers and consider how it might get on. But, while there is some weight to that argument, it can’t entirely excuse such abject failure to find the net.

It is no use denying that Juan Cuadrado has not been the force he was last season, even if that is not entirely surprising. All the talk of transfers would have been sure to turn anyone’s head. It feels as if more pressure has been heaped on him to come up with some moment of magic to unlock these tightly-packed defences. So far the Colombian has failed to produce the necessary magic to do so.

But is there a deeper problem in Vincenzo Montella’s team? Has their approach become so predictable and, frankly, slow that organised outfits are more than able to nullify their goalscoring threat? There is certainly no league quite like Serie A for coming up with tactical solutions to thwart, frustrate and get some kind of result against supposedly superior opposition. Has the Florentine tiki-taka been found out?

In truth, this was a question we already asked last year. The Viola have already tried amending their approach to get a bit more direct and become a little less predictable. Sometimes, however, you got the feeling they were not really being true to their ethos as a team.

This Fiorentina team seems destined to live or die by its passing game. When it works - and produces goals - it is a beautiful thing to watch. What a difference it would make to actually take the lead against a team determined to shut up shop. I don’t think anyone could doubt the Viola still have the ability to punish most lower level sides should they manage to force them to open up a little.

That is the puzzle for Montella to resolve. Should he pin his faith in the youthful Babacar and Bernardeschi? Can he find a central attacking role for Ilicic or Cuadrado? Or is there some other solution to these goalscoring issues? A trip to Torino, followed by home games with Inter and Lazio should at least ensure he faces sides more inclined to do some attacking of their own in the weeks ahead. I’m of the school of thought that says it is too early to start panicking and calling for any radical changes. But it sure wouldn’t do any harm to let me skip across the kitchen floor in celebration a little bit more often in the games to come.


Fiorentina v Genoa this weekend but for fans of a certain vintage, it will always bring back memories of a terrifying Sunday more than 30 years ago…


The old woman leapt into the air in fright. She had only gone out to hang up her washing but suddenly found herself apparently being berated by an angry mob of wildly gesticulating men. The look of shock in her eyes was as genuine as it was understandable.

I’m ashamed to say that I was one of those bile-spitting individuals who scared an unsuspecting neighbour so undeservedly. I was in the process of breaking the world record for packing the most Scottish-Italians possible into a one-bedroom flat to watch a football game. My fear was it might be followed by the record number to appear in court on manslaughter charges. It would have taken the most benevolent and Azzurri-sympathising judge to accept our plea in mitigation: “But, M’Lud, this was Italy against the Netherlands in the semi-final of Euro 2000!”

Happily, the woman scurried back inside unscathed after our howls of fury and frustration in her direction. A penalty award had provoked such ire that I have never seen more red faces since the participants in a Scottish stag-do fell asleep under the Spanish sun. It was the kind of clash with the host nation of a major tournament which has become something of a speciality for the boys in blue. And its hero was the kind of player not normally used to earning much praise - a Fiorentina goalkeeper.

Dino Zoff’s side had already played its part in sending out co-hosts Belgium in the group stages but there was little doubt the Oranje represented a stiffer test. The Azzurri had managed a competent 2-0 win over Romania in the quarter-finals while the home side brutally put away Yugoslavia by six goals to one. Patrick Kluivert with a hat-trick and Marc Overmars with a double had been the main architects of that destruction. Frank Rijkaard looked to have a very strong chance of taking his team all the way to lifting the trophy.

But Club Italia in general and Francesco Toldo in particular had other ideas. Over a gripping two hours and more of football they delivered a performance which was excruciating and ecstatic in equal measure. You know the Nazionale by now, they never like to do things the easy way.

Even by their own torturous standards, however, this was a particularly uphill struggle. The Dutch had the best of the opening exchanges - Dennis Bergkamp hit a post -  and when Gianluca Zambrotta saw red after a little more than half an hour it appeared the game had taken a crucial swing. A few minutes later and a penalty was awarded which should have given the host nation a concrete advantage. Alessandro Nesta tugged at Kluivert and the referee pointed to the spot and the Orange-tinged Amsterdam Arena roared in delight.

“The referee, Marcus Merk I think, had given an interview before the game warning the Italians to be careful with their hands,” recalled Nesta. “I tugged him a little but the decision was quite harsh.”

But that was where Toldo really started his heroics. He palmed away Frank de Boer’s effort and the scores stayed level. It seemed to galvanise the whole Italian team into some kind of superhuman effort to stay in the game.

“The referee favoured them because they wanted a France v Holland final, that was very clear,” said the big Viola goalie. “In the game before I remembered De Boer had shot to the goalkeeper’s right. I guessed he would go left this time and he did.”

“We were all sure he could save it,” remembered Gigi Di Biagio. “He was going through a great spell.”

The goalkeeper needed to be in outstanding form. When a second penalty was awarded - the one which sent us screaming at the television and scaring an old lady - it looked like his efforts had been in vain. This time, though, Kluivert would take the kick.

“We exchanged glances and it was like there was a challenge between us,” claimed Toldo. “I knew I shouldn’t move until the last minute because he was watching me. He had to angle the ball as much as possible because he thought I might go that way.” Incredibly, the ball pinged back off the post and the Azzurri survived to fight another day.

They would play all the way through normal time and extra time with 10 men and still hold on to the draw which could potentially put them through. They even created a few chances, the most notable falling to Marco Delvecchio. But this game was always destined to be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

“From the tips of my toes up to my back my whole right leg was cramped up,” recalled Di Biagio, who missed a spot-kick at the World Cup two years earlier. “I got back up because we had no more substitutes. I will never forget those last minutes because I could hardly walk but I knew I had to take a penalty.

“I was shaking,” he continued. “It is a feeling I will never forget. I will remember this one more than the one in France. Because in France I was sure I would score, I had been playing well and then came that error.”

Luckily, he could count on the dubious help of Francesco Totti. “Instead of telling me everything was going to be fine he looked at Edwin van der Sar and said: ‘Look how big he is!’.” The joke worked, however, and this time Gigi thumped his spot-kick home. It put the pressure, once again, on Frank de Boer.

“He took the first one (in the shoot-out),” said Toldo. “He took it like the one before but harder and less accurate and so it wasn’t as angled. So I saved it and he was in despair.”

Gianluca Pessotto put his penalty past his Juventus team-mate and then it was Jaap Stam’s turn. “His penalty was a classic defender’s penalty, it was really powerful but he hit it too high and it ended up in the crowd,” said Toldo. That set up a special cameo performance from Totti.

“When he went up to take the penalty he turned round and said: ‘I’ll chip it.’”, remembered Nesta. “We said: ‘Let’s hope not, let’s hope he hits it hard.’ He jokes a lot, we hoped he was joking.” It was no quip, of course, and his cucchiaio was scooped into the goal.

“He showed great character,” said Di Biagio. “It was not easy to do something like that.”

Kluivert finally converted a penalty to give the Dutch a chance at 3-1 with Paolo Maldini to step up for Italy. But he admitted he took a poor kick which was saved. Suddenly the door was open for an improbable comeback. Paul Bosvelt had to score his kick to keep the game going but he would be no match for Toldo. Once again the goalie guessed right and the match was over. Incredibly, Italy were through to the final.

Toldo still beams from ear to ear when asked about that game. It was probably the finest performance of his career and there was little more he could have done to influence its outcome. As a Fiorentina follower, it was a rare pleasure for one of our own to play such a vital role for the Azzurri.

The tournament ended badly, of course, with that golden goal from David Trezeguet giving France victory in the final but the semi-final was a performance to live long in the memory. It took every ounce of concentration and focus from the Italians to secure their qualification from that match. All it cost me was a red-faced apology to a neighbour for any fright I might have caused.

Italy: Toldo; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Nesta, Iuliano, Maldini; Albertini (77 Pessotto), Di Biagio, Fiore (83 Totti), Del Piero, Inzaghi (67 Delvecchio).

Netherlands: Van der Sar; Bosvelt, Stam, F de Boer, Van Bronckhorst; Cocu (95 Winter), Davids; Overmars, Bergkamp (86 Seedorf), Zenden (77 Van Vossen); Kluivert.


I’ve tried to work out a league table of who has the most early/late kick-offs in rounds two to 16 of the Serie A season via the list released recently.

Hopefully I’ve added them up correctly, table as follows.

11 games - Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Hellas Verona, Inter.

10 games - Lazio, Empoli.

9 games - Milan, Torino, Sassuolo.

8 games - Fiorentina.

7 games - Cagliari, Chievo.

6 games - Parma, Sampdoria, Palermo.

5 games - Cesena, Atalanta, Udinese.

4 games - Genoa.


Calcio memories from 21 years ago. Myself & Ray Della Pietra’s labour of love.


There was no real road to Damascus moment. I wish I could say I fell off the back of a mule while taking a mountain track to Sommocolonia, the hilltop village where my grandfather used to go to school. I had, instead, a much more gradual conversion to Italian football.

I don’t think I could put a precise date on when I finally saw the light but I reckon I could probably tell you where it happened. And, funnily enough, it was on another lump on the Tuscan skyline. A series of summertime visits to Il Ciocco training complex near Barga fully opened my eyes to the delights of Calcio.

These were the days of the Ritiro. Hot, languid afternoons where only the tourists stirred and rumours buzzed of a scappatella by some soccer superstar with a local lovely. Sometimes, in the cool of the evening, you could even catch a glimpse of the immortals.

Fiorentina were the first team I remember coming to town but they would be followed in years to come by Sampdoria. Giancarlo Antognoni, Claudio Gentile, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini were all within touching distance. And there was definitely a more relaxed atmosphere than once the stresses and strains of the season got under way.

It was a bewitching experience to see them starting to go through the gears for the campaign to come. The contrast with your average Scottish player back home could hardly have been more stark. These bronze-skinned ball players positively strutted through the streets and were never anything less than impeccably turned out. Every time I flew back into Glasgow I was ten times more determined to try to live and look like they did. And every time, of course, I failed.

But this was the seed-planting time for a process which would eventually lead to a creation which consumed several years of my existence. Watching the Ritiro gave birth to an obsession with Italian football which in turn produced a stream of writing on the subject. Eventually, after sporadic publication elsewhere, I set up the fanzine Rigore!

I think it was born out of those first summer days in the Garfagnana valley. I spent my mornings studying the latest Gazzetta dello Sport to see how the teams were shaping up for the new season. I am old enough to just about remember the excitement it provoked when the barriers came down to foreign imports and overseas stars could be freely purchased once again.

I would draw up imaginary future formations in my head and try to assess the merits of each squad being pieced together. Invariably I got it all wrong but it was good fun trying. Mostly I overestimated Fiorentina’s final league position.

Then, later in the day, there would be analysis over cappuccino and a cake with my father. Although, at that stage, I think I was strictly a Lemon Soda kind of guy. We were the Saint and Greavsie of Onesti’s Cafe.

There was always something special back then about any links between Britain and Italy. My early years of Calcio study coincided with the lifting of the ban on foreign players so such transfers were, by their nature, few and far between. Picking your Stranieri was a much less scatter-gun system than is allowed by the free frontiers in existence nowadays. Initially teams were allowed one then two and then three overseas stars before it became pretty much a free for all. Imagine your own favourite Serie A team of today having to trim down its non-Italian quota to such levels.

So Brits in Italy were something of a curio, particularly in the early 1980s. They were considered to be a bit of a risk as their ability to adapt to the Italian game was thought to be less straightforward than, say, most South Americans. In addition, there was still a great deal of suspicion and prejudice ruling the relationship between the two nations’ football. To many UK eyes, Catenaccio was still king in the peninsula. While those looking in the opposite direction saw a kick-and-rush game where skill was submerged by physical exertion.

That made two British players at one club a pretty unusual thing. To have a pair of them on my doorstep during my summer holidays was an unmissable opportunity. It must have been either the summer of 1984 or 1985 when I made my pilgrimage to Il Ciocco to see Graeme Souness and Trevor Francis and their Sampdoria side.

It was another warm day, I remember, slowly trudging upwards to the hilltop training pitch. Then hanging around like a groupie for a hope of getting a moment with the Blucerchiati’s overseas double act. They were happy enough, I think, to hear a voice from back in the UK and posed for a picture and signed a couple of autographs before rejoining their teammates. As a crushingly-shy teenager, I was star-struck for weeks.

Francis clearly enjoyed the surroundings of Serie A. He spent four seasons at Samp and then a year at Atalanta after moving from Manchester City, before being lured to Rangers, where Souness had already found a home. The Scotsman spent just a couple of campaigns with the Doriani but he did help them win the Coppa Italia in 1985 - the Genoese outfit’s first major trophy since they were formed by the fusion of Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria nearly 40 years earlier.

Indeed, that Souness-Francis double act paved the way for some of the most glorious years in the club’s history. They played alongside many of the names who would become legends at the Stadio Marassi - none more so than Vialli and Mancini, but also the less-heralded Fausto Pari, Fausto Salsano, Pietro Vierchowod and Moreno Mannini who would rack up something like 1,300 appearances for the club between them. President Paolo Mantovani was busy creating a little masterpiece.

Neither the Scotsman nor the Englishman were giants of the Italian game but they certainly avoided the Bidone (dustbin) tag which was given to many other British players in Serie A. They were proof that players could come from the old First Division and prosper in the world of Calcio. Their pioneering laid the foundations for a veritable invasion which grabbed the game by the Pauls - as Elliott, Gascoigne and Ince all plied their trade in Italy along with the likes of David Platt.

But, for me, that was a golden moment in my love-affair with Italian football. Domestic sides gradually started to shun Il Ciocco and, instead, British sides made it their home with Rangers, Everton and even Kilmarnock making it their pre-season base in years to come. They never quite lit the spark of excitement that Samp did at a period when Serie A was about to enjoy one of its most sparkling periods of success.

Every time Ritiro rolls around, my mind wanders back to those heady summer days when life was so different. Serie A had a lot more money and I had a lot more hair, that’s for sure. You could rub shoulders with the heroes of the game before nipping back down the mountain for pizza, a glass of spuma and a shot on the latest video game in the local arcade. My romantic vision of those days infuses my thoughts of Il Campionato even now. Every pre-season fills my lungs with fresh enthusiasm, hope and a little sniff of nostalgia. And, although it gets harder every year, I try to hold my breath for as long as I can before I have to come back to the surface and find the real action is under way.