Sunday lunch menu hard to swallow

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Italians by and large are traditionalists and one sacred cow is of course Sunday lunch.

Even football fans making long trips around the country will ensure they are in a restaurant near the host stadium a few hours before kick-off for a bowl of fresh (is there anything else?) pasta at the very least.

The introduction of a regular 12.30 start this season has left fans not only stewing over missing out on their hearty sustenance, but also the quality of the fare on the pitch.

Parma fans brought a novel approach to Sunday’s lunch date against AS Roma by inviting anyone attending to bring a sandwich to the Tardini stadium and munch away as the players took to the pitch.

The aim was to highlight that the game did not revolve around those sitting at home in front of their television sets but the faithful who follow their teams every week.

Unfortunately, the majority of those armchair fans probably thought eating in the stands was just a quaint Italian custom, considering they were watching in Asia.

Prime time in downtown Shanghai would seem to be more important than down time in Rome to the Italian football league, who employed a rights and marketing company to wring as much as possible out of TV deals.

The feeling was that Asians would devour any football dished out at a decent hour, and potential Italian football fanatics in burgeoning markets such as China and Japan are not best served by the 3pm and particularly 8.45pm kick-off times.

So they might now tune in but what they make of the quality is another matter. Yesterday’s game finished goalless, and so wayward was the shooting that both sets of players may have been a little faint from low blood sugar.

The previous week was another drab affair in Cagliari where Inter came out 1-0 winners – disrupted by racist abuse directed at Samuel Eto’o, which proves that whatever the hour there will always be unpalatable morons.

Before that, for some reason beyond the realms of common sense the majority of the matches had been in the south of the country where the high-noon temperatures were still in the high twenties – and in the case of Bari against Cagliari in the sultry mid-thirties.

Needless to say, the games have been pretty lifeless affairs in front of sparsely-populated stands. But there is hope that domestic fans at least will gain an appetite for an early start to future Sunday rounds, with current leaders Lazio at home to Napoli, Juventus welcoming Parma and Milan at Bologna on the menu before the winter break.

RESULTS Sat 23: Fiorentina 2-1 Bari. Sun 24: Parma 0-0 Roma, Bologna 0-0 Juventus, Chievo 2-1 Cesena, Genoa 1-0 Catania, Lazio 2-1 Cagliari, Lecce 2-1 Brescia, Udinese 2-1 Palermo, Internazionale 1-1 Sampdoria. Mon 25: Napoli v Milan, 7.45pm

Roma’s plight left their fans with plenty to think about on yesterday afternoon's return from Parma to the capital where Claudio Ranieri finds himself an ever more isolated figure but the club cannot afford to pay him off or to pay for a half-decent replacement for that matter.

The Giallorossi will have muddle on for the time being and must hope that the derby in two weeks' time can turn their season around. Lazio may be happy to laugh off any talk of the title but the Edy Reja’s battlers continue can bask at the top table for some time to come, especially as European competition continues to take its toll on their rivals.

Inter looked completely worn out from chasing Gareth Bale around last week, against a Sampdoria side who were much more at ease playing counter-attacking underdogs at the San Siro than favourites to win an Europa League tie in Ukraine.

The defending champions were once again shackled (remember Jose Mourinho’s crossed-hands gesture in the corresponding fixture last season?) and it was left to Eto’o to get them out of prison with a late equaliser - the Nerazzurri are four points off top spot and could be overtaken by AC Milan, who are at Napoli this evening.

As soon as Juventus started playing up their chances they go and knock over their half-full glass of expectation with a goalless draw at Bologna: earlier on in the campaign they conceded too many goals now they can’t seem to score any.

Gigi Delneri spent most of the post-game interview defending Milos Krasic from receiving a suspension for diving to win a penalty which Vincenzo Iaquinta then missed, but the Serbian looked to have gone down unaided and could well miss the game at Milan this weekend under the new video evidence procedure.

Come to think of it, checking in on video misdemeanors might be more enjoyable than the lunchtime fillers so far.