Forget Cesena and their victory over Milan, forget even Novara and this week’s amazing 4-1 win over Livorno, because neither are punching above their weight in their respective divisions more than Calcio Portogruaro Summaga are in their present company. A tiny Club from a tiny town in northern Italy is sitting proudly in sixth place in Serie B after a 2-1 win over Ascoli at the weekend.
Normally when talking about the smaller clubs in Serie A or Serie B there is always something to help you recognise or associate with the team. For example, if discussing Hellas Verona of the Lega Pro Prima Divisione A, there are various features a fan of Italian football could relate to instantly, whether it’s its location and large population, its lavish 39,000-seater stadium, or its success in the mid 1980s, a time when they won the Scudetto boasting players such as West German defender Hans Peter Briegel and playmaker Antonio Di Gennaro.
Even fellow minnows like Novara have a recognisable feel as the city is the capital of the province. Portogruaro, however, are a true anomaly. Managed by Fabio Viviani, the Club is based in the small town of the same name in Vento, in the province of Venice. There is little of note here other than a church and an abbey, and is tranquil and sparsely populated by only 25,000 inhabitants. The football team formed in 1919, though only truly established itself in 1990 following a merger, starting life in Italy’s seventh tier of Italian football and hovering in and around that level of calcio for some time afterwards. However, following a meteroric rise in recent years, history was made last season when the Club managed to win Lega Pro Prima Divisione B and gain promotion to Serie B.
This was a huge achievement for the Club as for the first time in its history the likes of Livorno, Siena, Torino and Atalanta beckoned. However, it meant moving home as the Stadio Piergiovanni Mecchia’s modest capacity of 3,335 was not enough to welcome the bigger stars of Italian football. As such, the team was forced to play at the Stadio Friuli in Udine, but now boast notable players in ex-Napoli and Torino front man Inácio Piá and Juventus loanees Salvatore D’Elia and Andrea Pisani.
What happened in the opening weeks of the season can only be seen as a minor miracle. Portogruaro made a dream start, beating Cittadella by two goals to nil. It was a shock result but looked like a one-off when in the following week they lost 4-1 away at Vicenza. It brought the Club down with a bump but any reality check was shortlived as they recovered to win 1-0 against last season’s promotion hopefuls Sassuolo. Next up was a 1-0 reverse away at Frosinone but in week five Portogruaro ground out a well-earned 0-0 draw at Livorno, who last season graced Serie A. All of which set the scene for Saturday’s clash against a very strong Ascoli side at the Stadio Friuli.
The visitors got off to a good start, striking the post from a free-kick early on. However, against the run of play, the home side managed to pick the ball up on the edge of the box and swing in a well-weighted cross, where Federico Gerardi was the man on hand to rise above his marker and head powerfully into the top right hand corner. Moments later, Filippo Cristante’s powerful drive nearly beat Ascoli’s dependable Enrico Guarna from 30 yards but instead just flashed by the near post.
The second half saw Ascoli look to get back into the game with some vigour and they threatened early on with a free-kick well saved by Francesco Rossi. But the pressure continued and eventually substitute Milan Djuric headed in a fine goal to bring the visitors level. Viviani’s men showed their resolve, however, did not let themselves get deflated, and with a minute to go they delivered a killer blow. A long cross from the right was not dealt with by Guarna and when the ball was turned back in, Marco Cunico headed in the winner. Ascoli were stunned as they’d probably done enough to deserve a point but it was the hosts who were delirious at the final whistle.
Next week Portogruaro face a tough trip to Torino, but on current form this small Club with few fans and supposedly even fewer hopes have every right to be confident and play without fear. The locals will be praying the fairytale continues.