Palermo survive by the skin of their teeth


Serie A’s European race came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday, as the race for second spot shifted between Napoli and Roma. The Partenopei started in second, but after Roma netted at Milan had to go on the charge against Frosinone. Gonzalo Giguain’s hat-trick helped them to a Champions League group stage position.

A day later it was all about survival. Palermo sat in 17th, a point clear of Carpi. At home to already-relegated Verona, Palermo were expected to get the win required. Carpi had to go to Udinese, who had nothing to play for other than to send departing club legend Antonio Di Natale off on a high.

Controversy surrounded Verona’s trip south. Serie A’s parachute payments for relegated teams ensured Hellas stood to make more money if Palermo survived. Carpi pressured the League to keep a close eye on proceedings. But any suggestion Verona would simply lie down proved incorrect.

Palermo did win. So too Carpi. The Rosaneri survived, but only just. An awful campaign had a nerve-tingling ending, but credit should go to coach Davide Ballardini and his team for leaping the hurdles set before them from within.

This is Ballardini’s second stint on the bench, taking part in a coaching merry-go-round which made Palermo a laughing stock. His first reign took a shocking twist away to Verona in January as a major rift developed between him and the players. For all intents and purposes, captain Stefano Sorrentino led the team at the Stadio Bentegodi, while Ballardini stood emotionless on the sidelines.

They seemed to bury the hatchet and Sorrentino was one of Palermo’s stars in the latter weeks. They won three of their last five matches to survive. Enzo Maresca was another to stand up when it mattered most. Frozen out by Ballardini earlier in the season, his looping header minutes after Verona equalised sent Palermo on their way. Alberto Gilardino’s goal then sealed the win, although Verona made the last moments interesting by pulling one back.

Relief fell over the Stadio Renzo Barbera at full-time. Players, coaches and fans rejoiced at the end of a difficult season. All have endured the incomprehensible whims of President Maurizio Zamparini, which nearly took Palermo down. They went through nine different coaching stints. The team could never settle under a regime.

That they survived was testament to the willpower of the players, and Ballardini, to persevere. Carpi deserve praise for their gallant effort. But Palermo’s season must be a warning for Zamparini: such a campaign cannot be the norm.

Carpi pay the penalty in relegation race

Carpi FC v SS Lazio - Serie A

It was the sort of drama-filled contest only the end of season scraps can produce. Drama encapsulated in 90 minutes. But that’s scant consolation for Carpi, whose action-packed 3-1 defeat against Lazio means they have dropped into the relegation zone with one match remaining. Serie A safety will ride on a tense final round.

It could have been so different had Jerry Mbakogu held his nerve from the spot. Not once, but twice. Instead, Federico Marchetti proved a brick wall as he saved two first half penalties. The Lazio goalkeeper guessed right twice and it was Lazio two goals up at the break. It may have been more had Senad Lulic’s shot not hit both the crossbar and post.

After Miroslav Klose netted, Mbakogu finally did get the better of Marchetti, while Lazio ended with nine men following red cards to Lucas Biglia and Filip Djordjevic. It proved something of a hollow victory for the capital club as they cannot reach Europe next season, but defeat was costly for Carpi. Especially as Palermo left Florence with a point to go 17th.

“We didn’t deserve to lose, we were unlucky today,” coach Fabrizio Castori bemoaned. “We created very many chances and missed two penalty shots, while they were a lot more cynical.”

But he was not about to lay the blame at Mbakogu. “The player assigned to the penalty shoots it the way he feels he must. You can’t reproach him that. Let’s just accept what happened on the pitch.”

The Biancorossi are now 18th, with the final spot to join Verona and Frosinone to Serie B decided on the final day. It is a battle between the promoted club and crisis-ridden Palermo, who have finally found some form to go four games unbeaten.

The head-to-head record between the two sides is level as they approach the final round. Palermo host Verona knowing a win will be enough, while Carpi will go to Udinese hoping for a favour in Sicily.

What can Castori’s team do this weekend? “We have the duty to keep trying until the end.” But Carpi have won just one away match in 2016, going scoreless in six of their last seven. Meanwhile, Palermo have not conceded a goal in three games as they prepare to face Serie A’s lowest scorers.

After Sunday’s amazing loss, it will take something special to see Carpi remain in the top flight.

Zamparini to blame for Palermo mess


Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini has let fly in recent weeks. Outbursts from the controversial figure are nothing new, but he has directed his ire at those perceived to be against Palermo. As the Sicilian club creep closer to relegation the strain is showing on a President who has been central to Palermo being in this predicament.

While the battle for the Scudetto is over, the action is heating up at the bottom. Verona are now relegated, with Palermo, Frosinone and Carpi scraping to avoid the other two positions.

When Frosinone scored a late goal in their relegation six-pointer at Verona on April 17, Zamparini accused the home team of letting the Canarini score. “For the Frosinone goal the Verona players looked the other way. Am I doubting the good faith of Hellas Verona? I’ve already said everything. You look at the match. If there is to be TV evidence then it should be used in this case.”

Frosinone President Maurizio Stirpe called the comments “offensive to the whole of football.” But that hasn’t stopped the fiery Zamparini.

His next target was referees. On Sunday, Palermo won a crucial match at Frosinone, their first since January 24. But victory for Carpi over Empoli saw the minnows stay in 17th, three points clear of Palermo.

“The fight to avoid relegation was conditioned directly by the referee Paolo Valeri in the Carpi-Empoli match yesterday,” a statement from the President read. He was incensed at the first half dismissal of Empoli’s Levan Mchedlidze, plus a disallowed goal and a penalty not given to Empoli. Carpi won 1-0.

Rather than complain about referees, Zamparini must look in the mirror for the cause of Palermo’s struggles. They have made nine coaching changes this term – that’s more than their number of wins, eight.

Zamparini sacked Giuseppe Iachini citing an ability to play the football needed to succeed. He later brought him back, only to sack him once more weeks later. Davide Ballardini’s absurd fallout with the squad late last year mattered little as he is back on the bench. Walter Novellino lasted only a few matches. Then there was the Guillermo Schelotto debacle. The Argentine did not have the correct licence to coach and had to be replaced by a series of youth and assistant coaches.

Palermo’s squad is not one which should be fighting for survival. But thanks to the farcical nature of Zamparini’s leadership and his penchant to hire and fire like it’s nothing, Palermo have been severely crippled. They have three games left to mount a recovery.

Carpi’s survival hopes aided by successive wins


It had happened just once this season, and for only one week. Such has been the – expected – difficulties in their debut Serie A campaign, Carpi have been perennial strugglers. Their win total is the second lowest in the top flight, only ahead of bottom club Verona. And eight games without success threatened to send the Emilia-Romagna club back to Serie B without a whimper.

Yet Carpi have given themselves a massive shot in the arm in the past fortnight. Faced with two ‘relegation six-pointers’ against Frosinone and Verona, Fabrizio Castori’s team won them both. Such is the importance of those results, Carpi are now 17th, out of the bottom three for the first time since Round 7.

After a 2-1 win over Frosinone sealed with the final kick of the game by Jonathan de Guzman, Castori declared belief was running through the player’s veins. It was their first victory since January 17.

The Coach urged his players back up that triumph with a win away to Verona, themselves desperate for points to move closer to safety. “We need the same fire and determination that we saw in that [Frosinone] game.”

Two moments of magic helped Carpi take home maximum points in a 2-1 win, only a second on the road this season. Antonio Di Gaudio’s fine run and finish put the Biancorossi in command. And even after conceding an equaliser past the hour mark they showed the spirit Castori demanded. Kevin Lasagna’s superb free kick in the 68th minute enough to claim victory.

“This can give us even more confidence going forward, as we played with heart, but it’s not over yet and we must continue like this,” Castori urged.

Carpi now have their head above water, but only just. They shunted Palermo into the bottom three on goal difference only, while Frosinone are just a point back. Following two draws with Palermo it is goal difference which is the decider for ladder positions. Of that tightly-packed trio Carpi’s is the best at -18. That could be crucial in the final reckoning.

Yet as Castori acknowledges there is a long way to go. Carpi still must travel to Milan – they did secure a draw away to Inter in January – and Juventus. There’s a potential final day relegation showdown with Udinese. But after successive wins there’s reason for Carpi to feel renewed confidence and ensuring what would be quite a remarkable feat.

Minnows battle will help shape Serie A relegation


As far as Claudio Lotito is concerned, it’s a match Serie A could do without. When the Lazio President was last year caught in a phone call controversy regarding television revenue, his ire was directed at the likes of Carpi and Frosinone. The former “are not worth a cent”, while he questioned if people could even locate Frosinone – just south of Rome – on a map. Coming from somebody as influential as Lotito, the words were detrimental.

The two ‘nothing’ clubs meet this weekend in what could be argued is the most important match of the round. It’s certainly going to mould the relegation zone.

Promoted to the top flight last season for the first time ever, both have fought diligently against Italy’s cream of the crop. There have been impressive results – Carpi held Inter and beat Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia, while Frosinone drew at Juventus – but it has, understandably, been a struggle. These are two of the smaller clubs to ever compete in Serie A. It’s testament to the players, coaching staff and those in the boardroom that both made it to the top division.

Heading into this Round 29 match both sit inside the relegation zone. Frosinone on 26 points, Carpi four adrift. The Canarini are just a point from safety, with trouble-laden Palermo dragged into the fight. They were victorious when the two sides met in October. The 2-1 success was sealed by a 91st minute Paolo Sammarco goal. Repeating the feat would seriously dent Carpi’s survival hopes.

“Considering the schedule I drew up, we now need three more wins and three draws to secure Serie A safety,” Frosinone boss Roberto Stellone said after last weekend’s success over Udinese. But Stellone also warned his team must improve their away form. Only one of seven wins have come on the road, with more losses – 10 – than any other side.

But Carpi haven’t triumphed since mid-January. That’s eight games without success. After three consecutive draws, Fabrizio Castori is out to gain maximum points. “[On] Sunday we have a head-to-head with Frosinone on our home turf. We will try to win.”

It’s those respective records and positions on the table which make this an intriguing battle. With Palermo, Atalanta and Udinese facing difficult challenges against Napoli, Lazio and Roma respectively, the chance to move closer to safety is up for grabs. It’s more interesting than Lotito could ever imagine.

Kevin Lasagna: quando i sogni si avverano

Serie B: Anticipo, doppietta Lasagna e Carpi espugna Vicenza

Il calcio è  ancora capace di raccontare storie bellissime che hanno i contorni della favola. Una di queste ha come protagonista Kevin Lasagna, attaccante ventiduenne del Carpi che con l’Inter ha segnato la prima rete in carriera in serie A, coronando un sogno che fino a pochi anni fa sembrava irrealizzabile.  E che rete: il suo sinistro ad incrociare al 92° a San Siro, nella Scala del calcio ha permesso al Carpi di uscire imbattuto contro l’Inter e di alimentare il sogno salvezza degli emiliani che hanno inanellato il quarto risultato utile consecutivo.

E pensare che nemmeno due anni fa, Kevin sgomitava sui campi della Serie D a caccia di un futuro che avesse il pallone come centro di gravità. Cresciuto a Suzzara, nel mantovano, ha esordito in Promozione con la Governolese, vincendo il campionato. Nell’estate del 2011 arriva la chiamata del Lumezzane di Davide Nicola, allora in Prima Divisione, ma, dopo un periodo di prova, la società bresciana decide di puntare su prestiti di giovani provenienti da vivai di Serie A.

Sfumata l’occasione, il ragazzo non si scoraggia e riprende a lavorare con passione, disputando un altro ottimo campionato con la Governolese. Al termine della stagione il trasferimento in Serie D al Cerea e, infine, il fortunato passaggio all’Este dove sigla 21 gol in 33 partite.

La svolta della sua carriera si chiama Cristiano Giuntoli. Profondo conoscitore di campionati minori, Cristiano nota nel ragazzo delle caratteristiche fisiche e tecniche rare e lo porta al Carpi in serie B nel 2014. Velocità supersonica, mancino al fulmicotone e un’incredibile predisposizione al lavoro ed al miglioramento, lo fanno presto un pupillo del tecnico Castori ed un idolo della tifoseria che lo ribattezza KL15, riprendendo le iniziali del più famoso CR7 Cristian Ronaldo. Grazie alle 5 reti messi a segno diventa uno dei protagonisti della cavalcata trionfale del Carpi in serie B.  Tutto questo sembrava già il massimo per un ragazzo che fino a due anni fa militava nei dilettanti. Invece il bello doveva ancora venire.  La sua storia è uno splendido messaggio a tutti i sognatori del pallone, un invito a prendere in mano il proprio sogno e coltivarlo, con lavoro e fatica, magari sognando, proprio come Kevin, un gol a San Siro.

Serie A mid-season report: The relegation zone

Juventus FC v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A

Luigi Delneri insists his team will fight until the bitter end. It’s all they can do. Sitting bottom of Serie A, Verona are already a massive 11 points from safety. Most concerning is they are yet to win a game. They look relegation certainties, but how about the other contenders at the halfway mark?

It’s probably no surprise that the relegation zone is rounded out by Carpi and Frosinone. Promoted from Serie B, they are amongst two of the smallest clubs to ever reach the top flight. But they are no means doomed.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for Carpi. Fabrizio Castori led them to an extraordinary promotion, but was sacked after just six winless matches. Replacement Giuseppe Sannino won only once, so Castori was reinstated. That seemed to galvanise the Biancorossi, who have since picked up eight points.

Frosinone boss Roberto Stellone has his side a point ahead of Carpi, on 15. Starting the term with a quartet of losses, the Canarini then stunned Juventus to then pick up their first ever Serie A point. Some have found the trip to the Stadio Matusa a tricky one, but cutting out the heavy defeats – Frosinone have conceded a League-high 41 goals – will aid their chances of survival.

Two experienced Serie A campaigners are also in the firing line. Genoa and Palermo hold the two positions immediately above the drop zone. The Rossoblu picked up a much needed win at Atalanta to round out the first half of the campaign, having lost six in a row beforehand.

Meanwhile, Palermo are on their third Coach. Ex-Lanus boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto comes in for Davide Ballardini, who had replaced Giuseppe Iachini. Curiously, both sackings occurred after victories. It appeared only a matter of time as Ballardini lost the confidence of the players. But both, as well as Bologna and Torino ahead, have the experience and squad strength to survive the drop.

That possibility is decreasing each week for Verona. Last term led by the goals of Luca Toni, his spell on the sidelines hurt dearly. Andrea Mandorlini was sacked, but Delneri’s arrival has not altered the course. They have just eight points.

Delneri says the team will fight to the end, but with their confidence shot it will be a long road back in the second half of the campaign. Who else will be staring at a Serie B future alongside Hellas?

È una Coppa Italia piena di sorprese

Mai come quest’anno la Coppa Italia è stata ricca di sorprese: La formula attuale infatti favorisce i grandi club che entrano in corsa direttamente agli ottavi di finale e hanno il vantaggio di giocare in casa il turno. Il regolamento è stato fatto appositamente per far arrivare in fondo le squadre più forti con lo scopo di aumentare lo spettacolo e l’appetibilità di una Coppa che è sempre stata bistrattata dalle big d’Italia.  In questa stagione, però il fatto ha voluto farsi beffe del machiavellico regolamento creato dalla Lega Italiana e infatti nei quarti di finale, oltre ai grandi classici Juventus – Lazio (la finale dello scorso anno) e Inter – Napoli, troveremo anche Milan– Carpi e sorpresa della sorprese La Spezia – Alessandria.

La favola dell’Alessandria è sicuramente la più bella da raccontare. Non accadeva da 31 anni, infatti, che una competizione di terza serie facesse così bene: era il 22 febbraio 1984 quando il Bari di Bruno Bolchi, sconfisse incredibilmente – nel doppio turno di andate e ritorno – la Juventus di Platini e Trapattoni: 2 a 1 a Torino e 2-2 in Puglia. I lupi grigi hanno iniziato la competizione  addirittura lo scorso 2 agosto, battendo i dilettanti dell’Altovicentino. Da lì è iniziata la scalata che è culminata con le vittorie sul Palermo ai sedicesimi e con il Genoa agli ottavi di finale.

Ancora più incredibile l’impresa dello Spezia, che è riuscito a bloccare la Roma sullo 0-0 all’Olimpico per 120 minuti per poi trionfare ai calci di rigore. I liguri, malgrado non navighino in acque troppo tranquille in cadetteria, hanno tirato fuori dal cilindro una prestazione gagliarda e poi non hanno sentito l’emozione durante la lotteria di rigori che li ha visti infallibili dal dischetto. Ora i bianconeri avranno l’insolito ruolo di favoriti nella sfida con l’Alessandria dei quarti di finale. Il sogno di una delle due formazioni continuerà.

A questo ci aggiungiamo l’inaspettato successo del Carpi con la Fiorentina. La squadra di Castori era nettamente sfavorita, ma ha saputo sfruttare dell’atteggiamento presuntuoso dei viola per regalarsi per la prima volta nella storia il quarto di finale di Coppa Italia con il Milan. E se gli emiliano dovessero riuscire nell’impresa impossibile, affronterebbero in semifinale la vincente di Alessandria – La Spezia. Bizzarrie del calendario, sogni che solo il gioco del calcio sa regalare.

La lotta salvezza: una storia gia’ scritta?


C’era un tempo in cui la lotta per la retrocessione era piu’ emozionante di quella Scudetto. 18 squadre in lizza e 4 condannate alla discesa negli inferi della Serie B. Dal  2004-05, con l’allargamento dell’organico a 20 squadre si e’ passato contro ogni logica alla retrocessione di sole 3 squadre, svilendo non poco la corsa per la lotta alla salvezza.

Anche quest’anno, la battaglia per non retrocedere si preannuncia poco affascinante, con le due matricole Carpi e Frosinone che sembrano condannate ad una rapido ritorno nella serie cadetta.

Le due formazioni sono state promosse a sorpesa in serie A, ma non potendo disporre di un budget elevato, non hanno potuto attrezzare adeguatamente le loro rose per il massimo campionato italiano. E l’inizio non pu’ dirsi certo entusiasmante: entrambe le neopromosse occupano infatti l’ultima posizione in classifica, frutto delle sconfitte subite nelle primedue giornate di campionato. Anche i bookmakeer credono poco nel proseguo della loro favola, visto cheil ritorno in seconda divisione del Frosinone è quotato appena 1.30 e quello del Carpi a 1.50.  Per salvarsi, serve un miracolo: Il Carpi si aggrappa ai goal di Marco Borriello, il Frosinone a quelli di Daniel Ciofani. Difficilmente basteranno.

Il discorso si fa interessante per quanto riguarda la terz’ultima piazza.  Tra i maggiori indiziati il Bologna, altra neopromossa che tuttavia e’ stata protagonista di una buona campagna acquisti con gli arrivi di Mattia Destro dalla Roma e di Emanuele Giaccherini dal Sunderland. A rischiare molto e’ l’Empoli, che dopo la sorprendente stagione dello scorso hanno ha smobilitato: via il tecnico Sarri, via il regista Valdifiori e il terzino Hysaj, tutti e tre approdati al Napoli; via il pilastro della difesa Rugani, tornato alla Jventus.

Tra le altre squadre Verona, Chievo ed Atalanta, sembrano un gradino sopra le formazioni finora menzionate, ma non possono permettersi distrazioni.  Sassuolo, Palermo e Udinese hanno una rosa con piu’ qualita’ e dovrebbero dormire sonni tranquilli.