With the Champions League final due to be contested this year between Manchester United and Barcelona in Rome on Wednesday May 27, Football Italiano reflects on the Italian contribution to the competition.
This season’s Champions League campaign saw Inter, Roma, Juventus and Fiorentina all qualify as Italy’s representatives with the peninsula’s most successful European side, Milan resigned to the UEFA Cup. With the Rossoneri European specialists out of the picture it was left to the Nerazzurri, whose summer capture of 2004 Champions League winner Jose Mourinho boosted their cause, to lead the Italian’s assault on Europe’s biggest prize.
Third Qualifying Round
First up for the sides that finished last season in third and fourth places in Serie A – Juventus and Fiorentina – was the potential banana-skin of the third qualifying round. Both sides were dealt straightforward draws and when Juve promptly smashed their Slovakian opponents, Artmedia Petržalka 4-0 at the Stadio Olimpico in the first leg, their Group Stage berth was all but secured. Fiorentina’s comfortable 2-0 victory in the home leg put them firmly in control against the slightly trickier Slavia Prague, before securing qualification with a stalemate in the Czech capital.
August 12, 2008
Fiorentina 2-0 Slavia Prague – Mutu 3, Gilardino 57
August 13, 2008
Juventus 4-0 Artmedia Petržalka – Camoranesi 8, Del Piero 26, Chiellini 39, Legrottaglie 90
August 26, 2008
Artmedia Petržalka 1-1 Juventus (1-5 on aggregate) – Fodrek 13; Amauri 25
August 27, 2008
Slavia Prague 0-0 Fiorentina (0-2 on aggregate)
Group A saw Roma pitted with English heavyweights Chelsea as well as Bordeaux and little known Romanian side CFR Cluj. I Lupi looked overwhelming favourites to qualify alongside the west London outfit but a shocking home reverse at the hands of the Romanian minnows threatened to leave their hopes of advancing in tatters. This, even after Christian Panucci had given the Giallorossi an early lead only for the Romanians to come storming back to earn an historic win. However, a convincing win in France was followed by a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge before the Giallorossi made light work of Luis Felipe Scolari’s men in the return fixture, with Mirko Vucinic inspiring a comprehensive win. Matteo Brighi’s brace helped secure sufficient revenge on Cluj and all but make qualification for the last 16 safe. Brighi was again on the scoresheet as the Giallorossi made sure of their place in the knockout rounds, after comfortabley dispatching Bordeaux at the Stadio Olimpico. It also ensured Luciano Spalletti’s men topped the group with Chelsea the other team to advance – an excellent return for the Romans who were widely expected to be following the Blues rather than claiming top spot, with hopefully a kinder draw in the next round.
September 16, 2008
Roma 1-2 CFR Cluj – Panucci 17; Culio 27, 49
October 1, 2008
Bordeaux 1-3 – Gourcuff 18; Vucinic 64, Baptista 71, 83
October 22, 2008
Chelsea 1-0 Roma – Terry 77
November 4, 2008
Roma 3-1 Chelsea – Panucci 34, Vucinic 48, 58; Terry 75
November 26, 2008
CFR Cluj 1-3 Roma – Kone 30; Brighi 11, 64, Totti 23
December 9, 2008
Roma 2-0 Bordeaux – Brighi 61, Totti 79
Final Standings – Roma 12, Chelsea 11, Bordeaux 7, CFR Cluj 4
Inter was dealt a very kind group with Mourinho’s men tipped to cruise through and finish top with relative ease. However, numerous lacklustre displays and poor performances left a lot to be desired and after being seen as Serie A’s most likely contenders for the title, those hopes looked extremely farfetched after some torrid outings. It started in convincing fashion though with Amantino Mancini and Adriano grabbing the goals in Greece to dispatch Panathinaikos. This was followed by a home draw to Werder Bremen before a slender win over unheard of Cypriots Anorthisis had the Nerazzurri in the box seat to land top spot. However, matchday four saw a thrilling 3-3 draw in Cyprus with Julio Cruz’s late goal barely saving Mourinho’s blushes after some horrific defending from the visitors. It proceeded to get worse for il Biscione as Panathinaikos left the San Siro with all three points, although qualification for the last 16 was secured even after this shocking defeat. Mourinho left out a few key names for the tricky trip to Bremen, and his gamble backfired as his side were promptly turned over by the dominant Germans leaving Inter having to settle for a disappointing second spot and a potential meeting with one of Europe’s finest in the next round.
September 16, 2008
Panathinaikos 0-2 Inter – Mancini 27, Adriano 85
October 1, 2008
Inter 1-1 Werder Bremen – Maicon 13; Pizarro 62
October 22, 2008
Inter 1-0 Anorthosis – Adriano 44
November 4, 2008
Anorthosis 3-3 Inter – Bardon 31, Panagi 45, Frousos 50; Balotelli 13, Materazzi 44, Cruz 80
November 26, 2008
Inter 0-1 Panathinaikos – Sarriegi 69
December 9, 2008
Werder Bremen 2-1 Inter – Pizarro 63, Rosenberg 81; Ibrahimovic 88
Final Standings – Panathanikos 10, Inter 8, Werder Bremen 7, Anorthosis 6
Group F was the location of Serie A’s only casualty in this early stage as Fiorentina was unable to escape an extremely tough group. Paired with Lyon and Bayern Munich and the awkward Romanian side Steaua Bucharest, la Viola were going to have to pull out all the stops to gatecrash the last 16. Cesare Prandelli’s men travelled to France to face the daunting prospect of Ligue 1 champions Lyon, and a first-half brace from Alberto Gilardino put the visitors in the box seat and seemingly on course for a priceless and surprising opening day win. However, the home side fought back and ultimately equalised through young startlet Karim Benzema just four minutes from time in a pulsating game. Next up was the visit of Steaua and if la Viola was to advance to the next stage of the competition, taking all three points here was almost essential. However, a goalless draw against the Romanians meant Fiorentina suffered a huge dent to their European ambitions. Prandelli’s side now faced an uphill battle for qualification and a thumping 3-0 reverse at the hands of German heavyweights Bayern Munich made that hill a mountain. When Tim Borowski cancelled out Adrian Mutu in the return fixture, Fiorentina’s hopes were truly hanging by a thread – of which Lyon swiftly cut with a narrow win in Florence. A slender win in Bucharest secured third place and UEFA Cup football but it was little consolation to Prandelli as his side concentrated on rejoining Europe’s elite for next season’s competition.
September 17, 2008
Lyon 2 -2 Fiorentina – Piquionne 73, Benzema 86; Gilardino 12, 42
September 30, 2008
Fiorentina 0-0 Steaua
October 21, 2008
Bayern Munich 3-0 Fiorentina – Klose 4, Schweinsteiger 25, Ze Roberto 90
November 5, 2008
Fiorentina 1-1 Bayern Munich – Mutu 11; Borowski 78
November 25, 2008
Fiorentina 1-2 Lyon – Gilardino 45; Makoun 15, Benzema 27
December 10, 2008
Steaua 0-1 Fiorentina – Gilardino 66
Final Standings – Bayern Munich 14, Lyon 11, Fiorentina 6, Steaua 1
Juventus also found themselves attempting to navigate through a difficult group as they faced nine-time competition winners Real Madrid and highly rated Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg. Alessandro Del Piero’s late winner saw off Zenit at the Stadio Olimpico but the Bianconeri had to come back from two down to secure a disappointing draw at Belarus minnows BATE. But that disappointment was quickly laid to rest when Claudio Ranieri’s side overcame Real Madrid, with Del Piero’s early opener one to remember. Del Piero again proved to be a thorn in Real’s side in the return fixture as his fine curling effort followed by a stunning free-kick secured a memorable victory in the Santiago Bernabeu. Not only was that result unforgettable, it also assured the Old Lady of their place in the last 16. Juve’s next two group games certainly were forgettable as both ended goalless but Ranieri’s men still landed top spot thanks to their superior record over the Madrid side.
September 17, 2008
Juventus 1-0 Zenit St. Petersburg – Del Piero 76
September 30, 2008
BATE 2-2 Juventus – Krivets 17, Stasevich 23; Iaquinta 29, 45
October 21, 2008
Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid – Del Piero 5, Amauri 49; Van Nistelrooy 66
November 5, 2008
Real Madrid 0-2 Juventus – Del Piero 17, 67
November 25, 2008
Zenit St. Petersburg 0-0 Juventus
December 10, 2008
Juventus 0-0 BATE
Final Standings – Juventus 12, Real Madrid 12, Zenit 5, BATE 3
It was a case of Italy vs. England in the first knockout round as all three of the Italian sides scored a tie with one of the English giants. The odds were stacked against the three sides from the peninsula as many tipped an English clean sweep.
All three first legs left a lot to be desired with regards entertainment, but it left the three ties balanced on a knife-edge, as there was little to choose between the teams. Manchester United left the San Siro with a healthy goalless draw to send them back to Old Trafford happy – especially after such a dominant performance. The Nerazzurri had Julio Cesar to thank for keeping Mourinho’s side in the tie after United had a barrage of chances in the first half, and although il Biscione did improve after the break, the Red Devils took a decent draw back to north-west England.
Juve’s trip to west London proved to be a rather tepid affair even with the added spice of the Tinkerman returning to his former club. Didier Drogba’s first-half strike ensured Chelsea a slender advantage for the return leg in Turin, but the Bianconeri took plenty of positives from the Bridge after having the better of the play in the second half. Roma’s trip to London also ended with a narrow defeat, with Robin van Persie’s first-half penalty the only goal of the game, although i Lupi could count themselves lucky they were still in the tie at all after the Gunners missed a glut of chances throughout the match.
February 24, 2009
Inter 0-0 Manchester United
Arsenal 1-0 Roma – van Persie (pen) 37
February 25, 2009
Chelsea 1-0 Juventus – Drogba 12
The second legs inevitably proved dramatic but it was to be a miserable ending for Italy and her representatives. Mourinho’s Old Trafford sprint never materialised as Man Utd efficiently dispatched his Inter side. Nemanja Vidic was left unmarked on just four minutes to head home from a corner but despite the early lead and expectancy on the Nerazzurri to perhaps roll over to a superior opposition, Mourinho’s troops regrouped and put in a sterling display. Zlatan Ibrahimovic could only head on to the bar when he really should have scored and when Adriano’s volley came back off the post, it was clear it was not going to be Inter’s day. Cristiano Ronaldo made the game safe for United with a towering header from Wayne Rooney’s inch-perfect cross to send the Nerazzurri crashing out early for another year. No doubt, Inter had lost to arguably the best side in the Europe but a second place finish in a straight forward group did much of the damage and eventually proved il Biscione’s downfall.
Juve and Chelsea certainly made up for the tepid first leg at the Bridge with a frantic game in Turin. Vincenzo Iaquinta finished superbly after David Trezeguet’s excellent through ball, as the Old Lady cancelled out Drogba’s first leg strike early on. However, Chelsea netted a vital away goal right on half-time as Michael Essien bundled in after Frank Lampard’s deflected effort came back off the bar – minutes after a Drogba free-kick had been clawed out from behind the line by Gianluigi Buffon, denying Chelsea a clear goal. And there was plenty of drama still to come. First, Giorgio Chiellini received his marching orders after a second yellow, before the home side were handed a lifeline when substitute Juliano Belletti was adjudged to have handled in the box. Del Piero nonchalantly dispatched the kick and as Juve desperately pressed forward for a winner, Drogba ended Bianconeri hopes when tapping in to round of a superb counter attack.
The drama didn’t end in Turin, as Rome was also treated to a theatrical night, desperately ending in heartbreak too. Brazilian defender Juan scored early on to hand Spalletti’s side the initiative, but Arsenal did well to force their way back into the game. The game stayed at 1-0 until penalties, but Julio Baptista missed a glorious chance in the dying stages of normal time when he headed over unmarked. And so to the lottery of penalties. First to miss was Eduardo with the very first spot-kick but Vucinic’s tame kick spared the Croatian’s blushes, and following several more converted kicks Max Tonetto felt the pressure and blazed over his penalty to send Arsenal through.
March 10, 2009
Juventus 2-2 Chelsea (2-3 on aggregate) – Iaquinta 19, Del Piero (pen) 74; Essien 45, Drogba 83
March 11, 2009
Manchester United 2-0 Inter (2-0 on aggregate) – Vidic 4, Ronaldo 49
Roma 1-0 (1-1 on aggregate, Arsenal win 7-6 on penalties) – Juan 9
With all the Italian sides out before the quarter-final stage, their Premier League counterparts were left crowing about the supremacy the three results represented. No-one can argue with results but England’s win over the Italians was by no means a straightforward feat. Questions will be asked of the likes of Inter and Juve especially as both sides came up short once again. Mourinho’s appointment was supposed to give the Nerazzurri a better chance in Europe with the know-how of a former winner. But when the likes of Ibra continue to go missing on big European nights, il Biscione will continue to struggle. Juve’s campaign definitely had better moments and although the Bianconeri was unlucky at the hands of Chelsea, there didn’t seem to be enough belief when faced with the might of the Blues. Roma’s story was again littered with poor away displays although they exited the competition bravely. Fiorentina will be better for the experience when they return to Europe’s elite next season and let’s hope the same can be said for Italy’s other three entrants.
There were no Italian representatives in the last eight, but still some mouth-watering ties. Arsenal travelled to Spanish side Villarreal where Marco Senna’s 30-yard blockbuster was promptly outdone by Emmanuel Adebayor’s stunning overhead kick, for the tie to be delicately poised at one apiece. Elsewhere, Porto shocked Old Trafford as they left with a thrilling 2-2 draw, thanks to a late equaliser from Mariano Gonzalez. Barcelona all but booked their place in the last four as they thumped a woeful Bayern Munich 4-0 at the Nou Camp with Lionel Messi in irresistible form. However, the game of the round was at Anfield where Chelsea fought back after Fernando Torres’ early opener to leave Rafael Benitez’s side in tatters. An unlikely brace from Slovakian defender Branislav Ivanovic followed by Drogba’s simple finish saw the Blues leave Merseyside in near delirium.
If the first leg of the all-English affair was enthralling, then there are no superlatives for what unfolded during the second leg at Stamford Bridge. Needing to score at least three goals and without inspirational skipper Steven Gerrard, the Reds somehow flew into a 2-0 lead before the half-hour mark. Drogba pulled one back after half-time before Brazilian defender Alex smashed home a 30-yard free-kick to put Chelsea back in the box seat. Frank Lampard then made it 3-2, but even after Benitez had hauled off Torres – suggesting he’d thrown in the towel – Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt scored in the space of two minutes to leave the Merseysiders a goal away with just under ten minutes left to play. It set up a frenetic finale, but Lampard scored again in the dying stages to finally kill of Liverpool’s hopes in one of the games of the 2008/09 competition.
Elsewhere, Arsenal made light work of Villarreal at the Emirates with a convincing 3-0 victory – Theo Walcott, Adebayor and van Persie all on the scoresheet. An outrageous long-range effort from 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo was enough to secure United’s passage while Barca’s draw saw them cruise through too.
The English, for a second year running, dominated the last four with only Barca looking to gatecrash the party. The Catalans hosted Chelsea at the Nou Camp in the first leg, but failed to produce the total football they had throughout the rest of the competition as the Blues’ rearguard held strong in a one-sided encounter, which ended a rather drab 0-0. The other tie did give us a goal, although through an unlikely source. John O’Shea handed Man Utd the advantage over Arsenal as he fired home from close range in an entertaining game, in which Sir Alex Ferguson was left ruing missed chances as his side could well have put the tie to bed.
Arsene Wenger promised his side would launch an assault on United’s goal for the second leg, but any game plan quickly evaporated as the visitors hit the Gunner’s with two early sucker-punches. Ji Sung Park pounced on an error from young full-back Kieron Gibbs before Ronaldo fired a 40-yard free kick past a static Manuel Almunia. United won the match 3-1 with Ronaldo netting again after a swift counter-attack but Darren Fletcher’s unlucky red card left Fergie with a sour taste in his mouth as the tireless midfielder would miss out in Rome.
There was no shortage of drama in west London as the name Tom Henning Ovrebo would reverberate around the football world with the Norwegian referee at the centre of a dramatic and controversial game at Stamford Bridge. Michael Essien’s wonder-volley gave Chelsea a first-half lead and after Barca had Eric Abidal sent off, the Blues proceeded to have numerous penalty appeals waved away by the Norwegian referee. And with fate seemingly on their side, the Spanish giants stole a last-gasp winner when Andres Iniesta fired in a superb 20-yard strike to shatter the West London side. Diabolical scenes followed as the Chelsea players continued to dispute with Ovrebo, with Drogba, Michael Ballack and Jose Bosingwa going far beyond the realms of orderly disagreements.
Manchester United vs. Barcelona
It has been labelled the dream final – two sides at the top of their game, playing superb, flowing football with a collection of some of the world’s best players in the facing off in a thrilling finale.
Much has been made of the apparent match-up between the world’s two most talented players. Ronaldo and Messi have once again lit up their respected domestic leagues and have played vital roles in helping their side to be crowned champions. Messi is this season’s Champions League top scorer with eight goals thus far and the Argentinean will be desperate to add to that tally in final, especially as he is yet to score against a Premier League outfit in 10 attempts. The Maradona-esque winger will have to contend with arguably the best defence in Europe, and he will no doubt be confronted with the excellent Patrice Evra on United’s left. The in-form O’Shea is in-line to start at right back while the irrepressible Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are certain to be the preferred centre-back pairing, although there is a slight doubt over Ferdinand’s fitness. Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Anderson are believed to be the midfield trio with Paul Scholes pushing them all the way, although spare a thought for unfortunate Fletcher who he would surely have been in the first XI after an excellent season.
If the early noises coming out of Old Trafford are to be believed then it is likely Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov will start on the bench. So if things aren’t quite happening for the Red Devils up top, Fergie will have the option of bringing on a strike-force worth around £60 million to spice things up – not too bad really. Fergie’s preference will be for the hard-working Park and Rooney on either wing as he looks to restrict Barca’s play, whilst knowing only too well both players can also make the difference at the other end. Ronaldo’s excellent display at the Emirates where he occupied the lone striker role will see Fergie keep faith in his Portuguese maestro and hope for a similarly devastating performance like the one in north London earlier this month.
1 Van Der Sar
22 O’Shea – 5 Ferdinand – 15 Vidic – 3 Evra
8 Anderson – 16 Carrick – 11 Giggs
13 Park – 7 Ronaldo – 10 Rooney
Ronaldo will be licking his lips at the sight of Barca’s defence which has been less than convincing on countless occasions this season. Not helped by the suspended duo of Abidal and the flying Dani Alves, with centre-back Rafael Marquez a doubt also. Former Red Gerard Pique is a certain starter as is Carlos Puyol, while Sylvinho will replace Abidal. Yaya Toure may have to again step in at centre-back, like he did at Stamford Bridge, with Sergio Busquets filling his midfield role. Although Pep Guardiola also has the possibility of throwing in the highly rated Uruguayan defender Martín Cáceres, who they spent big on last summer, he will surely be seen as too inexperienced. The dependable Xavi Hernandez is a definite starter as are Messi and Samuel Eto’o while Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta are in a race against time for Rome. Bojan Krkic and Seydou Keita are on standby but Guardiola will be desperate for two of his star men to be fit for the showpiece.
5 Puyol – 3 Pique – 24 Toure – 16 Silvinho
6 Xavi – 28 Busquets – 8 Iniesta
10 Messi – 9 Eto’o – 14 Henry
Another memorable Champions League campaign comes to a pulsating end, but the all too familiar story of the failures from the likes the Inter and Juve sound once again. But let’s not spill any more tears on Serie A’s European failings, let’s enjoy a mouth-watering and thrilling finale.
UEFA Cup 2008/09 season round-up – The Italian sides’ story
Champions League inquest to Italy’s bitter disappointment (Published March 15, 2009)
Champions League round-up – They came, they saw, they conquered (Published March 12, 2009)
Italy vs. England Champions League Round-up – Round one to England (Published February 26, 2009)
Italy vs. England Champions League preview – Which nation will triumph? (Published February 3, 2009)