Is the fat lady warming up her pipes?

Juventus rivals, Internazionale FC and AC Milan, seem to think so. Or at least they say so publicly.

Last weekend at Inter's San Siro, Juventus defeated Inter 2-1 in a match that was refreshingly controversial for what happened afterwards rather than the officiating on the pitch.

Inter winger and Portuguese international, Luis Figo, is no stranger to insinuations about clandestine meetings between club players and referees either before or during halftime at matches. The Portuguese Superliga was rocked by such a scandal several years ago -- around the time Figo was wearing Benfica red. Chelsea coach and former Porto FC manager, Jose Mourinho, was also a veteran of this Superliga era, and it helped get him in trouble over similar accusations last seasonin England's EPL.

Unfortunately for Figo, he's been one of Inter's better players this season since his transfer from Real Madrid. And he has tainted himself with Inter's culture of loveable loserdom and of generating conspiracy theories behind club failures. Juventus General Director and front office mastermind, Luciano Moggi, was the subject of Figo's accusations. The Juventus office took these accusations very seriously, and what mounted was nothing short of a legal trash talking.

Figo has since retracted his original statement. Like all Inter players of the past 16 years, the reality of losing despite such high-profile signings takes time to sink in and accept. But you would have thought he had learned a little of this at Real Madrid the past few seasons?

As a result of the match, after 25 matches of a 38-match season, Juventus holds a clear 12-point/four-victory advantage over their closest rivals, Inter and AC Milan.

Inter's title hopes are still alive and well in Europe's Champions League, which continues next week, and the Coppa Italia. Inter coach Roberto Mancini is known informally as "Mr. Coppa Italia", given his personal successes as player and coach in this Italian elimination tournament. It's something of a back-handed complement now, however, as it has about the equivalent esteem as winning a third grade spelling bee.


Mancini brings down Milan

Amantino Mancini seems to keep moving further up the field, positionwise, as his career has matured at Roma. In fact, for last week's Coppa Italia match against Napoli, Coach Spalletti fielded this former defensive winger in a Totti-like playmaker role behind the forwards.

Mancini came on late against Milan in a deadlocked match. He created a legitimate scoring chance within his first minute on the pitch. But it was several minutes later that he ran wide of Milan's Jaap Stam, who was too busy marking a man in the middle, and fired home the game winner.

Roma won 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico. But it was an opportunistic Roma defense, who often dove in at the last moment to thwart many Milan scoring chances, that won them the match.

Milan now drops to third place behind city rivals, Internazionale -- with Juventus compiling an obscene 17-1-1 league record at the halfway point of the season.



Samp threaten Serie A boycott

With Juventus striking multi-million-dollar deals with MediaSet (ironically owned by the also-owner of rivals AC Milan), many clubs in Serie A are up in arms over big clubs getting a bigger slice of the TV revenue pie. All at the detriment of league parity.

Sampdoria President Riccardo Garrone threw his hat in the ring by suggesting that Sampdoria will boycott their games against Italy's five biggest clubs (Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, AS Roma, and SS Lazio) in protest.



Fiorentina goalkeeper Frey out three months

The Viola lost more than a chance to advance in the Coppa Italia yesterday. Former Parma (and former Inter) keeper, Sebastian Frey, is reportedly out three months with an injured left knee after colliding with Juventus forward, Marcelo Zalayeta, in last night's affair.

This is a huge loss, as Frey has continued his excellent play with a bigger team in Fiorentina this season. He's even been named to many team-of-the-month selections in Serie A.




Alex, the best of all time

Alessandro Del Piero may be spending a lot of time on the bench these days with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet in attack. But today at home against Fiorentina in the ritorno of the Coppa Italia, he burned up the Juventus record books by scoring his 183rd ... and then 184th and 185th club goals. Each setting the all-time club record.

Oh, and as if anyone cares about the Coppa Italia, Juventus won 4-1 and went through to the quarterfinals 6-3 on aggregate.



Gila nets in seven-goal thriller

Former Italian Under-21 star, Alberto Gilardino, continues to prove his form with his new club in AC Milan -- this time against his former club in the ailing AC Parma. But AC Milan hardly looked like the dominant force at home in the San Siro tonight.

Allowing three Parma goals, the AC Milan defense looked old and tired. Milan's Brazilian goalie, Dida, misjudged some balls, and players like playmaker Andrea Pirlo were forced to take down Parma players from behind to cover for the defensive gaps.

Sometimes even winning can still leave a team with a sense of failure... Milan almost played down to competition as low as the nose-diving Parma. Parma's bright spot was the resurgence of attacking midfielder, Marco Marchionni, who scored a brace and almost brought Parma home points from this affair.


Old Lady sings in Sicily

Sure, some say the juggernaut bianconeri looked shaky and played far from what they are capable of doing, but once they had the 2-1 lead on Palermo they pretty much held off any realistic chances of the rosaneri getting back into it. Juventus' Man of the Match, Adrian Mutu, scored a brace, despite once again playing a wide winger role in place of Pavel Nedved -- instead of his familiar forward role.



Surprise secret to soccer appeal

Leave it to egghead scientists to justify their interest in a given sport through research and data. So naturally, this story appeals to me.

According to researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory by analyzing over 300,000 games over the past century, English soccer is more likely to produce an unexpected result when compared with American hockey, baseball, basketball, and football.

Something tells me that, inside LANL, the nuclear researchers must have great internal fights over what channel to tune in on the cafeteria television. A rebuttal coming from scientists who are fans of U.S. sports is undoubtedly forthcoming...



Cassano is for Real

It's official: Real Madrid has decided to continue to rot from within. Their latest move? Signing Antonio Cassano from AS Roma for about 5 million Euros. While he comes at more than an 80% discount over what Roma originally paid for his transfer from Bari in 2001, Real Madrid has no idea of the player tantrums they've brought under their tent.


Maybe Perez is planning on playing defense now... who can say?


Samp suffer Bonazzoli blow

Bad news during the winter break for Sampdoria. Leading Samp scorer and former Reggina forward, Emiliano Bonazzoli, looks like he will finish the season with his current 9 goals. During practice, he apparently suffered some ligament damage to his knee that will likely keep him out for the rest of the season.

Ever since Genoa's Sampdoria promoted back into Serie A for the 2003-2004 season, I've really liked their management's approach to competitiveness. Instead of building their squad for Serie A revenues with huge outlays for a couple of star players, Sampdoria's front office instead sought out diamonds in the rough. To this day, they are still essentially a squad of disgruntled players with chips on their shoulders -- players who once joined the big teams of Serie A but failed to live up to expectations and were since sold off. In the vernacular of Christmas TV specials, Sampdoria is Serie A's Land of Misfit Toys.

Last year Sampdoria surprised a number of people for how well they played as a unit. Their defense was solid, anchored by an outstanding season of their starting keeper Francesco Antonioli. Forward Francesco Flachi also gave the league's leading scorers a run for their money. Only in last season's final throes did Milan's Internazionale qualify just over Sampdoria for the final Champions League spot, with Sampdoria qualifying for this season's UEFA Cup.

This season, as the current table shows, Sampdoria is still in the hunt. But they have struggled a lot on defense. This despite the successes of one of my favorite Serie A players in Aimo Diana. And while Flacchi has a respectable 6 goals thus far, a few have come from penalties, and his offensive output just hasn't been the same this season. Remove Bonazzoli, and this team's attack could be, well, rather flaccid.


‘Dirty’ Totti’s red 2005

Francesco Totti is such a maddening story for fans of AS Roma and the Italy NT. A world class player of almost unparalleled skill, he could arguably be the MVP for any team he might play with -- and not just his provincial preference to remain loyal to his Roma home base.

However, his ability to self-destruct is almost unparalleled in the world of soccer. His ejection for spitting on another player at Euro 2004 likely was a big contributor to the Italy NT not making it past the group stage. And as this recent article from Football Italia indicates, Totti gained the infamous title of the most red carded player in Serie A in 2005:


He might provide some entertainment by celebrating his goals off the touch line with baby props and the like to celebrate his recent fatherhood with wife Ilary. But, unfortunately for Italian football, the Totti jokes are funny because, well, they're true.

Cassano on verge of Real switch

Maybe Moggi wasn't kidding this time?

With Cassano's popularity waning heavily while sitting on the bench at AS Roma, it's apparently time for Sensi to cash in on any remaining equity in Cassano.

Who better to turn to than Real Madrid, a team filled with egos that are too big to fit in the Bernabeu. Even worse, Madrid's Perez continues to buy excesses of attacking forwards to sell jerseys in Asia while completely ignoring their anaemic defense.

You can basically hand the La Lega title to Barca at this stage -- Real Madrid has obviously learned nothing from their defeats. And expect Cassano to get plenty of bench time to steam himself into a sauna-like level of discontent. He'll fail and Real Madrid will be forced to resell him back on the transfer market at a 50% discount within the next year.



Moggi 'benches' Cassano

So let me get this straight. Luciano Moggi adds his latest to the ongoing Antonio Cassano transfer saga in Roma by suggesting that Juventus is stacked with first-team forwards...


Given Moggi's infamously wiley ways, who is really buying this, anyway?! Sounds like the kind of Moggi smokescreen that will have Cassano in bianconeri stripes by the end of the month, doesn't it?