Alessandro Matri – Rivas’s record matched by Cagliari’s new hero. Is Lippi and the Azzurri watching?

Alessandro Matri may not be the best known striker in Serie A, nor is he the most touted or raved about. That is until this weekend, when the 25 year old Cagliari striker scored his seventh goal in consecutive games equalling a record set by the great Gigi Riva.

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Alessandro Matri was born on August 19th 1984 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, 30km south east of Milan. It was with Milan who he signed with in 2003 after being part of their youth system and although making his debut for the Rossoneri against Piacenza in the same year he failed to win a starting place and embarked on a series of loan spells. The first was at Lega Pro Seconda Divisione club A.C. Prato where he managed top score 5 goals in 32 starts. This return only saw him loaned out again this time to A.C. Lumezzane, who were at the time a division higher. Matri scored 13 goals in 32 games here and this was a vast improvement but still not enough to win him a Milan regular birth. A final loan spell at Rimini in the same division saw 4 goals in 28 games and once again he returned to the intimidating surroundings of the San Siro. Things may have been looking bleak by 2007 for Alessandro Matri but there had been some notice taken of his abilities and this was from Cagliari. They snapped him up on a co-ownership deal and have not been disappointed in his return.

Matri’s form at Cagliari has been consistent and fruitful and as the Sardinian team has gone from strength to strength so has Matri’s form. The record equalising goal came in an enthralling 3-3 draw with Napoli at the Stadio Sant’Elia – his looping header nearly saving the day before a late goal from Mariano Bogliacino ruined the party. This season has seen him total 8 goals and 2 assists in 16 games and more importantly equal the record set by Gigi Riva in his time at Cagliari during the 1971-72 campaign. The famous Gigi Riva scored 164 goals in for the Sardinians in 315 games along with an impressive 35 goals in 42 games for the Azzurri, his standing amongst the history of Italian footballers is as one of the best. This is a big comparison for Matri who for the most is a player developing just a little behind schedule. His private life and questionable relationships with “TV Stars” has been in the newspapers more than his on field exploits and this is something not ignored by the young striker as he attempts to deflect any mention of comparisons to the great Riva. “It’s a great achievement but I am no Gigi Riva. He is a legend of Italian football so lets not get carried away” Matri humbly told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Matri does have potential however, at 6ft with a strong build of a striker reminiscent of Christian Vieri (although his own idol is Didier Drogba), as he can hold the ball up and is good in the air. He and his team mates could, if focused, take Cagliari to the next level as talent is in their ranks, not only with Matri but with goalkeeper Federico Marchetti and midfielder Davide Biondini who have both made their Italian debuts recently.

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Marcello Lippi may yet have to look towards the Cagliari hit man as South Africa 2010 looms on the horizon. With players such as Luca Toni, who is out of favour at Bayern, Antonio Cassano who is generally not liked for personal reasons, and Mario Balotelli whose moody and erratic behaviour and form leaves the best coaches banging their heads against a wall, may there be a place for Matri? His goal tally for a club in Cagliari’s situation is admirable and his attitude now seems to be focused , determined and grounded. When asked if his goal scoring would take his team to Europe his reply was to add “Europe? Our aim is survival. I am not thinking about Europe, neither is the team. We want to continue climbing the table. We need 40 points.”

His ability to hold the ball up and let others play off him could be the missing link in Lippi’s squad allowing the other front men to play off him while also having the ability to find the net himself. He will of course now be under pressure no more so than in the next game at Udinese where he will be expected to beat Rivas’s record. Pressure too will come in January when the big vultures from the north and the capital start circling in an attempt to see if the young man can cut it at the top and in Europe. This decision would be crucial as to whether the want to play for a top team could see Matri fall to third or fourth striker and ultimately miss the World Cup. The other criticism will come of whether a young forward with no European or International experience should be taken to football’s premier competition. The answer to this is an unequivocal yes, ask a certain Salvatore Schillaci.

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