Monday August 26 2013
Livin’ La Vida Luca

The past and present of Italian goalscoring went head to head in Verona at the weekend. Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at how an old stager came out on top as Week 1 comes under the spotlight.

The final whistle contrast could hardly have been more stark. One player sat slumped on the pitch in glowering frustration, while the other beamed with a delighted glow. In the glum corner was Milan’s Mario Balotelli – but the glee was clear to see for Luca Toni of Verona.

Only a football watcher with a heart constructed of Carrara marble could fail to feel good for the big hitman. Last season he dedicated a first goal of the campaign to his stillborn child, this time around it was for his two-month-old daughter Bianca. Even opposition supporters could hardly grudge him such delight.

Toni’s two-goal haul turned around a game which the Rossoneri looked to have under control after a fine Andrea Poli strike gave them the lead. But they fizzled out following their European exertions and, by the end, Verona were worth their victory. The warning light is on already for Max Allegri not to start another season like he did last year.

It was hard not to sense a deeper significance in the evening enjoyed by the past and present Italian internationals. Toni is playing with a smile on his face, happy in his personal life and enjoying a glorious Indian summer to his career few thought he would enjoy. Balotelli, in contrast, seemed a pent-up ball of rage at his inability to turn around a match he desperately wanted to win. How he could have used just a dash of his opposite number’s relaxed contentment.

And yet Super Mario’s malaise hints at underlying problems for his team. No doubt there was an added incentive to win for the former Manchester City man due to the pre-match taunts with the Verona support and fears of racism. But there is also a sense that he feels he has to carry this Milan side on his shoulders. And, looking around the squad, it is not hard to see why.

Where Paolo Maldini, Frank Rijkaard or Dejan Savicevic once stood, there now stand Kevin Constant, Antonio Nocerino, M’Baye Niang and the likes. Everyone connected with the club is having to get used to a new reality where the genuine superstar players are in short supply. It might still be the same plate of pasta, but the once-lavish truffle shavings have all but disappeared.

On Saturday evening it was evident that the responsibility was hanging heavy on Balotelli as he tried too hard to win the match single-handed. He thumped the corner flag in dismay and howled at the referee as his increasingly desperate attempts to turn the game failed. The joy with which Toni played the game in a team which will be simply happy to survive in Serie A was his polar opposite.

There will be happier times, of course, for Mario and his team. But it seems clear that fans will have to lower their expectations from the glorious successes of years gone by. This squad can still achieve decent results – especially in Italy – but it is no longer the kind to strike fear into sides across the planet. The Stadio Bentegodi – where two stronger Milan teams once saw their Scudetto dreams dashed – was clear proof of that. Verona provided a template for other outfits hoping to beat the Rossoneri in future.

Toni’s tour de force was a clear candidate for performance of the weekend but another contender was Napoli’s Marek Hamsik. The last of the Three Tenors remaining after the departures of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, he still made sweet music. Two goals and an assist crowned a sumptuous display which gave Rafa Benitez a winning debut in the San Paolo against an out-of-sorts Bologna. There was plenty for the Partenopei’s newly-employed cheerleaders to get excited about.

Reigning champions Juve produced the sort of bread-and-butter win which they build League titles from at Sampdoria. Carlitos Tevez struck the winner to confirm the impression that he is the new signing most ready to make an immediate impact for the Bianconeri. If he turns out to be the 20-goal man they were looking for, Antonio Conte’s men will be hard to catch.

Inter harbour hopes of getting closer to La Vecchia Signora than last year and got off to a winning start under Walter Mazzarri. He shored up the midfield and looked to cut out the silly mistakes of last year for the visit of Genoa. A late flourish – a hallmark of his sides – was enough to record a morale-boosting win at the San Siro through Yuto Nagatomo and Rodrigo Palacio.

Another new Coach setting out in positive fashion was Roma’s Rudi Garcia. It took until the second half for Daniele De Rossi with his first Serie A strike in over a year and Alessandro Florenzi to score the goals which saw off Livorno. The other talking point of the night was seeing Erik Lamela play no part for the Giallorossi as Marco Borriello started up front. It seemed to confirm that the young Argentinian will soon be heading elsewhere.

The other half of the capital, Lazio, enjoyed a win over traditional slow-starting Udinese despite the absence of their hardcore support. The Curva Nord was strangely silent as it remained closed as punishment for the racist booing during the Italian Super Cup. Luckily for Vlad Petkovic, it did not seem to hurt his team too much.

Cagliari triumphed with even less noise as they saw off Atalanta in the Nereo Rocco stadium in Trieste. And Torino also picked up three points against newly-promoted Sassuolo. Indeed, the only game of the weekend without a victor came in Parma. The Antonio Cassano effect was not enough to see off a stubborn Chievo side.

The last two teams to face-off will be Fiorentina and Catania in Florence on Monday night. The Viola will be hoping their new big money signing Mario Gomez can help them to continue the good form they showed last year. Otherwise, who knows, they might start to look north to Verona and the man they let go in the summer with more than a flicker of regret. 

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Have your say...
Was happy for Toni and he played a major role in the World Cup win even though he didn't score as many as expected. His huge body frustrated defenders and let the likes of Totti and Pirlo run amok. However, his time has passed and if the rumours are correct Prandelli is considering him for qualifiers. Nooo too slow. Would prefer the creative ageless Totti being given a Zidane like comeback. Totti and Balo could be devastating.
on the 27th August, 2013 at 11:25pm
Monty should never hv bn given d armband. Aint good enọf. He is damn too lazy for my liking. Allegri is definitely not da milan. He kept making useless changes when he should hv subed monty and noce. They exposed d CBs badly.
on the 27th August, 2013 at 3:14pm
Great player..We'll never forget the joy you brought us at the world cup.Keep it up against our rivals and stay quiet when we meet...Respect!!!
on the 27th August, 2013 at 12:31pm
Luca Toni has been my Serie A idol since he roared onto the scene at Palermo. His lack of mobility is often mocked, and its true you see double decker buses turn quicker...but his poaching instincts in the box are just as good as any number 9, and if you give him a decent cross he is probably one of the greatest finishers of all time using his head.

The joy I get seeing him score goals is matched by the visible sheer delight he gets from putting the ball in the net.

Long may it continue.
on the 26th August, 2013 at 6:31pm
im happy for toni - a great player and from all reports a truly great teammate/person who has dealth with much since his days at fiorentina and being a force in italys last WC victory.
but as a Juventino i couldnt be happier to see tevez score what I hope is 1 of many this season and just as much seeing pogba get the start over an injured marchisio - Pogba is the future and through the course of last season to now he just looks stronger and smarter! a 3rd straight scudetto here we come!
on the 26th August, 2013 at 1:37pm
I guess you can congratulate Toni but let's face it, he scored against probably one of the weakest defense core in Serie A..
on the 26th August, 2013 at 12:52pm
Allegri is completely clueless. Watching him make changes, but not to d mf only made me mad. Monty was totally useless (he needs to b striped of d armband), lazy, and uninspiring. Noce was inexistent. Zapata and mexes were disgraceful to say d least. And y wait to 64min to make d change when u needed to make d change, even in d 1hf.
on the 26th August, 2013 at 12:05pm
Being slow and sluggish while playing for bigger clubs especially while at Juventus, i was never really a big fan of Luca Toni. But i am glad to see him enjoying his football at Hellas. He seemed fit and always ready to make a run, If he only had played like that while at the bigger clubs he still would have been in the Azzurri squad.
on the 26th August, 2013 at 11:45am
Long live Luca !
on the 26th August, 2013 at 11:23am
Unnecessary speculation about Balotelli. The only thing Balotelli needs to do is stop looking for free kicks and penalties every time he goes near the box because its becoming a little predictable and referees are not falling for it. He should use his considerable strength and talent to actually try and score from open play. He is not expected to carry the team. SES should chip in with goals and Monty should take the responsibility for creativity. Lets not make this into a bigger issue.
on the 26th August, 2013 at 9:55am

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