Italian football loses face behind the ugly mask

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RESULTS: Sun Dec 6 Bologna 2 v 1 Udinese Fiorentina 2 v 0 Atalanta Genoa 2 v 2 Parma Livorno 0 v 2 Chievo Napoli 3 v 2 Bari Palermo 2 v 1 Cagliari Roma 1 v 0 Lazio Siena 3 v 2 Catania Sat Dec 5 Juventus 2 v 1 Internazionale Milan 3 v 0 Sampdoria

For a country where it's enormously enormous to put on a good face on all occasions - no matter how inappropriate it may be - football was wearing the ugly mask at the weekend.

No one came out of what passed for a football match in Turin on Saturday evening with much credit - the only shining moment during a grey contest coming from Claudio Marchisio’s quick feet and sublime finish for the winner.

We were back in the dark ages of the Italian game as Juventus and Inter kicked, dived, headed-butted and generally scuffled their way around the pitch.

We even had the unsavoury sight of Gigi Buffon losing his renowned Ital-cool – surely the first time a man wearing hairclips has been involved in an on-pitch melée.

Mario Balotelli isn't even out of his teens but is already a master of the dark arts of faking an elbow to the face: Felipe Melo had clearly caught the youngster in the chest with the sort of power that would hardly knock the breath from a gnat.

To cap it all, Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands for applauding the referee – he should really understand by now that irony and Italian officials do not make good bedfellows.

Our man now has the look of someone who knows he'll win the war but has lost the will for the never-ending battle of all things Italian.

He will have everyone on his back again for refusing to attend the post-game media interrogation – but then he has brought it upon himself with what seems an ever-diminishing fund of enthusiasm.

And it had all started in typical Italian manner – the bella figura of everyone hugging each other before the kick-off, although that was probably to check out if there were any daggers hidden up the backs of shirts and inside pockets.

On the whole, Juve deserved victory for dominating the midfield in a manner that we have not witnessed all season.

Too many Inter players were too busy becoming involved in niggling little personal spats while Marchisio, in particular, went about his game with a calm assurance that should make the 23-year-old a mainstay for club and country for years to come.

Down in the capital, on-pitch thuggery in the derby is more commonplace – but at least the Romans make no bones about the fact that their Roma-Lazio dust-up is the modern equivalent of a day out at the Coliseum.

However, for a while it looked as if the fervour associated with such occasions was as prevalent as the Roman Empire itself.

The only fireworks were in the stands which led to the game being suspended for around five minutes.

An appeal to those mischief-makers never materialised as the PA system in the Olympic Stadium packed in - so after much discussion on the sidelines play continued as if nothing had happened.

The incident did little to disrupt the languid flow of the game, but at least those on the pitch had the good grace to wait until the final whistle to starting pushing and shoving.

The matchwinner came from the most unlikely of sources: substitute Marco Cassetti, whose season up until then had been remembered for making Diego look good, back in the second game of the campaign.

Roma also had goalkeeper Julio Sergio to thank for a stunning reflex save from Stefano Mauri’s close-range effort when the result was still goalless.

The upshot is that the Giallorossi are in striking distance of the top four while their neighbours are a point above the relegation zone, with coach Davide Ballardini surely only hours away from the chop.

The Italian interpretation of what constitutes “Fair Play” was nicely highlighted in a Serie B game this weekend, which is worth watching.

Ascoli were at home to Reggina and a visiting defender attempted to kick the ball out so he could receive treatment, only for the opposition to ignore the appeal and score.

All hell, of course, broke loose and the home side were “shamed” into allowing Reggina to equalise – this after Reggina had set about a few of the opposing players like a pack of wild dogs.

Dignity in Italian sport has long disappeared – but now, it seems, is putting on a “good face.”

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