Serie A Breakdown

A look into which Italian teams will claim the remaining Champions League places plus the long-standing dilemma of celebrating a goal against your old team...
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With a fairly underwhelming Milan side given pretty much a free ride to their 18th scudetto, most interest in Italy has been centring on who will claim the remaining Champions League places.

Inter are jostling for position with Napoli and Udinese; all are still within a fading shout of the title but, echoing the situation at the top of the Premier League, none have built up the consistency or confidence to have a real decent crack at Berlusconi’s boys.

Udinese travelled down to Naples for the big Sunday night game. Napoli, not for the first time this season, rather bottled it under the harshest of San Paolo spotlights. The match ended 2-1, with the visitors going in front after midfielder Gökhan Inler banged in a beautifully measured shot from outside the box. It was a cracking goal, possibly a vital one in Udinese’s season.

Inler, however, walked away with all the enthusiasm of a harassed husband emptying the bins during an ad break.

Seven minutes later German Denis doubled the Friuli club’s lead. He held his arm up, then promptly clasped his hands together, asking the home support for forgiveness.

Denis used to play for Napoli. “Se segno non esulto.” If I score, I won’t celebrate. It’s an expression much loved by ex-players on the eve of games against former clubs. Palermo striker Fabrizio Miccoli took all this to baffling new levels earlier this year when he broke down in tears and had to leave the field after netting against hometown side Lecce (even though he’s never actually played for them).

Inler is expected to sign for Napoli next season, though he denies his lack of revelling had anything to do with his whereabouts next year. It was, apparently, because he’s got lots of Neapolitan mates and didn’t want to go upsetting them (Udinese sporting director Fabrizio Larini claimed it was actually because the player’s Swiss and so “he has great self-control”).

Meanwhile Luca Toni, now at Juventus, was having none of it ahead of the bianconeri’s Sunday afternoon trip to Fiorentina, one of his old clubs. “If I score, I’m going to celebrate. It’s not a lack of respect. Why bother scoring a goal in the first place?”

As it was, Toni didn’t score (he’s got two goals to his name all season), but his point’s surely a valid one. When, back in 2000, another Fiorentina old boy Gabriel Batistuta wept after scoring for new club Roma against his beloved viola , it was a genuinely heart-wrenching moment.

Now, as a mark of respect, as a way of acknowledging a previous club and supporters, the non-celebration has been cheapened by its deadening regularity. Scoring a goal is a release, it’s about living the moment; about capturing the very essence of the game.

It’s time to say “basta!” By my reckoning, a quick scan of this weekend’s Italian fixtures means Goran Pandev is set to hang his head low if he scores against former side Lazio; Roma’s Simone Perrotta will plead for mercy should he stick one in against his old Chievo teammates, while Matteo Brighi may well collapse in a heap if he gets on the score sheet for the visitors against the capital club; both Daniele Bonera and Alessandro Pirlo (unlikely to play, but bear with me) will be distraught should either net for Milan against Brescia, Bari’s Marco Rossi will need counselling if he fills the Sampdoria onion bag, Lecce defender Nenad Tomović could feel his bottom lip going if he happens to get the fourth goal of his career against parent club Genoa, Bernardo Corradi will stand stock still if his aim is true against Parma, while finally Edinson Cavani will surely give it the full Willem-Dafoe-in-Platoon death scene if he chalks one up against last season’s employers Palermo.

Right, I think I’ve got all those covered. *Punches air with joy, before running around room with shirt over head.*

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