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Say a Little Prayer for Italian Soccer
AUGUST 14, 2005 - For soccer fans this time of year usually means a return of the beautiful game - and peace to their lives. Those of us who are followers of the Italian religion that is Serie A, however, will have to wait once again for salvation. The season hasn't even started and already there's a breach of faith. Genoa, a team that last season climbed its way back into Serie A after 10 years out of the top division, was dropped to Serie C and docked three points by the highest soccer tribunal for match fixing. But the team's administration and its fans are appealing the decision in the courts and on the streets.
Until all the appeals are heard, the Serie A season, which is scheduled to start on August 28, can not begin. There's a good chance that soccer in Italy will be delayed for the fourth straight season. (A fight over television rights, a boycott by clubs because of a new format, and Olympics and World Cup qualifying matches have prevented the three prior seasons from starting on schedule.)
In addition to the season's delayed start, the reaction to Genoa's relegation is putting a damper on what should be a fun and exciting time of year for sports aficionados. In the last week, fans in Genoa have set fire to garbage cans, overturned cars, and assaulted people. Five police officers were reportedly injured and a newly refurbished street was destroyed, according to the Associated Press.
This kind of stuff is what turns the beautiful game ugly. First, the team might have actually fixed a match, which is sacrilege to any lover of the game. Now, fans have turned to the basest of instincts to respond to their punishment. It is as though there are no more rules to the game. And without rules fans are left with nothing. That's when they start turning on their beloved sport - and apparently each other.
Many of the teams that have been honest are not fiscally sound. The high cost of super star talent and a struggling economy have put many squads in the red. Each squad also will have to meet certain financial standards before the season can start.
But all is not lost yet. There are still some things worth the wait. Among them is the chance to see striker Christian Vieri don Milan's black and red after a few lackluster seasons on the other side of town playing for Inter. Vieri was struggling to fit into the nerazzuri system and we were all tired of watching that melodrama play out on the field. It will be nice to see him scoring goals instead of crying foul.
Palermo is another glimmer of hope. Last year, in its first season back in the big league, Palermo surprised the world with its finesse and relatively unknown players, who rivaled the Vieris of Serie A. The team ended the 2004-2005 season in sixth place with 53 points ahead of Roma and Lazio. Out of the shadows came Franco Brienza and Luca Toni, who has moved to Fiorentina in the off season. The pair made a good showing when a B-level roster of the Italian national team played a friendly match at Giants Stadium earlier this summer. Toni's choice of Fiorentina means that more than just the usual heavy weights (Juventus, Milan and Inter) should show promise this year.
But that's not all. Some of our old favorites - from Alessandro Del Piero to Francesco Totti - will be strutting their stuff in the stadiums. And they're not about to lay down and die in the face of younger competition. I'm hopeful that they'll give us quite a show on the field - and not off it. But I'll say a prayer just in case. You should do the same.
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