Saturday, 18 April 2009

The people’s new favourites move closer to European reward

Our man in Italy Kris Voakes focuses on the rise of Italy's oldest club Genoa who are surprise contenders for a Champions League spot.

The people of Italy have known the destination of the Scudetto for a long time and it is likely to be all but official by bedtime on Saturday. But by that time we could also be looking at the very real prospect of Genoa being amongst the peninsula's Champions League representatives come August.

Since Il Grifone's exceptional 3-2 victory over Juventus on Easter Saturday, Gian Piero Gasperini's side have finally being given some of the media attention that they've deserved for months. Thiago Motta's double and Raffaele Palladino's 88th-minute winner against his co-owners gave the red and blue half of Genova a real belief that they can hold onto their advantage over Fiorentina in the race for fourth, whilst simultaneously killing off Juve's last remaining title hopes.

All this happened without the injured Diego Milito, often harshly identified this season as Genoa's only real star, proving once and for all that they are anything but a one-man team. It was also done with the kind of hard-working, attractive style with which Genoa have become synonymous this season.

Based on a rock-solid defensive three, ably supported by wide midfielders who can get forward as well as back, Gasperini’s side have upset many a big name whilst also winning those difficult trips to the likes of Cagliari, Chievo and Lecce at important times of the season which have tripped up many an aspiring European side in seasons past. With Motta doing much of the headline-grabbing from midfield and Milito’s goals getting all the credit up front, the contributions of the likes of Ivan Juric, an incorrigible worker in the middle of the park, and Giuseppe Sculli, acquirer of countless assists for Milito since August, have been all too often overlooked. But it is exactly these types of contributions which have been behind Genoa's fantastic rise.

And Gasperini is finally getting credit too, this week being linked with a possible summer switch to Juventus as reward for his magnificent work, which has seen Il Grifone rise from the black cloud of match-fixing and demotion to Serie C in 2005 to the cusp of Europe's premier competition in just four years. Should the former Pescara midfielder lead his side to victory over a buoyant Lazio at the weekend, it would give them a five-point advantage over Fiorentina before La Viola’s tricky trip to Udine on Sunday.

There has been a unanimity about the conversations your correspondent has been party to in both Rome and Milan this week, and that's that Genoa are the team of choice for all neutrals watching the Champions League qualification race unfold. Their style of attacking football has caught many an eye amongst the football-watching public on the peninsula, and won many a new fan as a result.

Italy's people have spoken… and they would love to see the country's oldest club representing them at the top table next season.


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