Third-rate Italy must reject past to improve future

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS involving Italian teams: Juventus 1-4 Bayern Munich, Inter Milan 2-0 Rubin Kazan, Liverpool 1-2 Fiorentina, FC Zurich 1-1 AC Milan

Italy has finally found its place in Europe: providing possible finalists for the Europa League.

Last season’s debacle in the Champions League – the first time in seven years the country hasn't had a representative in the quarter-finals – was only the beginning of a crisis in Italian football that is set to get a lot worse.

There are no green shoots of recovery on the horizon – and what’s the betting there will only be three Italian representatives in a few year’s time?

Three out of four may have made it through to the knock-out stages but they don’t look equipped for the long haul to Madrid – even if Fiorentina were well worth their victory at Liverpool, which probably says more about the poor state of the English team.

The Viola’s progress has been something of a miracle considering their limited squad, and they deserve to be the last side standing for Serie A even if their top-spot finish hasn't done Inter and AC Milan any favours in the draw.

Juventus, for their part, are on their knees – losing 4-1 at home to Bayern Munich when a draw would have seen them through says everything that needs to be said about the state of the game in Italy.

NEWS: Ferrara frets after Bayern bashing

No leadership on or off the pitch, an approach so edgy that it would leave the Dalai Lama uptight and purported big names failing to live up to their hype.

There's never any middle ground in Italy: things are either bella or bruta – the good or bad if you like, but more and more so, just the ugly.

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Juve were competitive for the first 10 minutes and even took the lead – only to capitulate in spectacular fashion, with Ciro Ferrara watching on without making one tactical change when the Germans started flexing their considerable muscles.

Maybe he felt obliged to keep around €50 million worth of wasted transfer money on the pitch – but how Felipe Melo or Diego were not withdrawn from the fray earlier beggars belief, as the Brazilian pair lost possession just about every time they received the ball.

Of course, the blame doesn't lie solely with the two new arrivals, but the failure to escape the group will have devastating repercussions on the club finances.

Still reeling from the Calciopoli scandal - with sponsors slow to be associated with a game still seen as grubby - the club were pinning their hopes on a good run in Europe to raise not only their profile but the share price, which on Wednesday morning was at a four-month low.

AC Milan may be having a positive run but it’s a creaking ship with the only youngster in the team – Ignazio Abate – a world away from some of the luminaries who have played along the Rossoneri's right flank.

NEWS: Ronaldinho spot on as Milan qualify

Come January, David Beckham will provide some glamour and fill some San Siro seats, but it is only a sideways move on the pitch.

For the do-or-die encounter with the mediocre Rubin Kazan, Inter didn’t even bother trying to fill the ground – in an attempt to generate some atmosphere closer to the pitch, they closed the third tier.

At least Jose Mourinho gave Mario Balotelli a start and the youngster netted the second goal.

NEWS: Inter beat Rubin to reach knockouts

However, the irritable Portuguese summed up how he feels about Italian football when he dismissed what club legend Sandro Mazzola had ventured in the build-up: exit from the Champions League would make the coach’s position untenable.

“What does Mazzola do at Inter?” sneered the ever so touchy Jose.

Maybe he was right to belittle what went before because Italian football needs to find a new way to face the future.

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