Monday, 19 January 2009

Goodbye Kaka’; Hello title race

Our man in Italy Kris Voakes reports on all the main Week 19 action in Serie A, including the reopening of the Scudetto race and the protests in Milan against the possible sale of Ricardo Kaka'.

Milan fans staged an impromptu wake for Kaka' at San Siro on Saturday, but within 20 hours they were thrust back into contention for the Scudetto.

The Rossoneri's 1-0 win over Fiorentina was completely over-shadowed by the crowd's public display of affection for the Brazilian attacker, who is likely to complete a €120million move to Manchester City in the next 10 days. Fully two and a half hours before the kick-off "Don't sell Kaka'" was being sung by Milaniste outside the ground, and the chant hardly stopped until long after the final whistle. There were also many banners held up blasting the Milan hierarchy, slights which Adriano Galliani has since blasted as "ungrateful."

The game itself was won by Alexandre Pato's fantastic finish in the 7th minute. The Duck received a reverse pass just inside the box before hitting a shot with the outside of the boot which went in off the inside of the far post. It was the highlight of a blistering start to the game which had seen Fiorentina awarded, then denied, a penalty.

World Referee of the Year Roberto Rosetti immediately pointed to the spot after Christian Abbiati had chased out to foil Stevan Jovetic one-on-one, but he was rightly advised by his assistant that Abbiati had in fact won the ball and the decision was overturned. It was an embarrassing moment for the official who had only recently received the coveted award.

Rosetti would later send off Milan full-back Marek Jankulovski for dissent in second-half injury-time as the home side held on to a barely-deserved three points. The Viola had the majority of possession in the second half as they sought to level the scores. But when it came to efforts on goal, they couldn't find anything to beat an in-form Abbiati, who denied Santana, Montolivo and Kroldrup in quick succession as the away side turned up the heat.

Try as he might, Kaka' could not get the goal that would have brought the house down. But he did get a magnificent ovation from all four sides of the ground after the final whistle. Whether he'll ever play in front of the same fans again is yet to be seen.

Milan's win put them within six points of leaders and rivals Inter, who travelled to Bergamo on Sunday and turned in what coach Jose Mourinho called an "unspeakable" first 40 minutes, after which they were already three goals behind.

Sergio Floccari put Atalanta ahead and Cristiano Doni netted two as the home side put the Champions through the ringer. By half-time Mourinho had already made two changes to his starting line-up. First he brought on Victor Obinna for Christian Chivu in order to switch to a three-man strike force, then at the break he replaced the misfiring Hernan Crespo with the troubled Adriano. Inter did pull one goal back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic in injury time but the game was already long-since dead.

The 3-1 result not only brought Milan back into the hunt, it also gave Juventus the opportunity to close the gap at the top to just one point, but they were unable to take all three from their trip to Lazio.

Alex Manninger's howler would prove costly for the Bianconeri as they failed to overturn the lead given to Lazio by the Austrian's flap at Cristian Ledesma's free-kick. Ledesma whipped in his set-piece from the left wing high into Manninger's six-yard area, but the keeper misjudged the flight and could only get a touch with his right hand as the ball found the inside of the post and then the back of the net.

Luckily for Juve, they were able to get back on level terms quickly thanks to Olof Mellberg's wonderful header from 12 yards. Mellberg was filling in at right-back due to the side’s current injury crisis which has left them without goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon and Antonio Chimenti and defenders Jonathan Zebina, Giorgio Chiellini, Zdenek Grygera and Hasan Salihamidzic. They will be further weakened against Fiorentina next week after bookings for Cristian Molinaro and Momo Sissoko which mean both now face suspensions.

Elsewhere Giampaolo Pazzini's debut for Sampdoria ended in disappointment as they fell to a 2-0 home defeat to Palermo which piles the pressure onto boss Walter Mazzarri. The Genovese outfit have now won just one of their last six and currently sit in 15th in Serie A. There was some controversy at the Marassi after Mark Bresciano's excellent brace had given the Sicilians a much deserved away win. Antonio Cassano took offence to the home crowd booing and whistling at the final whistle and had to be calmed down by skipper Angelo Palombo as he threw a strop in front of the South Stand. His much talked about rapport with the Sampdoriani seems to have suffered it's first major blow as the side continues to struggle for form.

Doria's rivals Genoa are now in a Champions League position after a 2-0 win at Lecce, replacing Napoli in fourth after they went down to a shock 2-1 defeat at bottom side Chievo. Roma's recent revival continued with an injury-time winner from Julio Baptista at Torino. The result moves the Giallorossi to within five points of fourth, a far cry from their early-season form which saw them rooted in 17th in early November.


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