Monday February 4 2013
Vote for Mario!

Mario Balotelli is back in Italian football and he wasted little time in catching the eye. Giancarlo Rinaldi wraps up the Week 23 action.

Perhaps it was simply a political publicity stunt. Maybe it was merely a marvelous merchandising opportunity. But, whatever the motivation for Mario Balotelli’s move to Milan, it worked to perfection on his Sunday night debut in red and black.

The script might have been written by Adriano Galliani with stage directions from Silvio Berlusconi himself. Such was the dramatic nature of the Rossoneri’s victory over Udinese which put them straight back into contention for a Champions League spot.  The biggest deal of the January transfer window is paying off already.

Even Balotelli’s introduction to the game had a theatrical air. Only a late, warm-up injury to first choice hitman Giampaolo Pazzini opened the door to a starting spot for the ex-Manchester City man. He grabbed the opportunity like the steering wheel of a camouflaged Bentley.

Super Mario might have opened the scoring with his first touch of the ball. Instead, he waited until about midway through the half to thump home the opener. There was almost a hint of a celebration after he broke the deadlock.

Giampiero Pinzi tried to spoil the Balotelli love-in by scoring an equaliser but clearly even referee Paolo Valeri was taking his lines from the plot to this dream debut. He gifted the home side a late penalty which was softer than a Mr Whippy left sitting in the sun. You-know-who, of course, converted the decisive spot-kick with his usual ice cool.

“We were lucky with the referee’s decision,” admitted Milan boss Max Allegri. “I think Mario had a good game. He is strong, he has technique and he is just 22. He should enjoy himself with this Milan and show what he has got.”

But for one larger-than-life character returning, there was another taking his leave. The Zdenek Zeman adventure eventually crashed and burned on Friday night in suitably spectacular style with a 4-2 home defeat by Cagliari. It led to a sacking which was more predictable than heartburn after a homemade grappa.

The Roma boss looked like a dead-man walking before his side was dismantled by the Sardinians and a Mauro Goicoechea howler helped hammer the final nails into his coaching coffin. Sporting director Walter Sabatini had already dug the burial plot earlier in the week. And, with some of his team selections, ZZ helped to write his own epitaph.

He still had a few one-liners to leave us with. “The fans are disappointed with my sacking? I am even more so,” he quipped. “Give up management? They’ll have to shoot me first!”. He might be well advised to watch out for a sniper in Giallorosso colours after the torment he put them through this season.

The whole story seemed disastrously badly handled from beginning to end. Zeman is the coaching equivalent of Ronseal – he does exactly what it says on the tin. Under his guidance, Roma became everybody’s favourite team to watch except, one suspects, for their own supporters. Goals galore at either end were the order of the day, often grabbing spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory. The spiritual leader of the resurgence sought by the club’s American owner is stubbornly refusing to arrive.

With all the dramatic comings and goings, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that the Scudetto battle remains as gripping as ever with Napoli and Juve both overcoming potentially tricky obstacles in the shape of Catania and Chievo respectively. “It was vital to get this win and keep a three point gap,” said stand-in Bianconero boss once again, Angelo Alessio. “This is a tougher battle than last year and Napoli have shown they will be our main rival.”

“We can’t afford a moment of distraction, those of us who are involved in football know that,” said his Neapolitan counterpart Walter Mazzarri. “We saw that against Parma last week, every team is competitive. We need to pay attention to every detail.”

That focus is paying off for the top two as chasing Lazio and Inter both took their eye off the ball. The Biancocelesti looked to have salvaged a point at the Stadio Marassi before a late, late strike from Genoa debutant Marco Rigoni sent them spiralling to defeat. For their part, the Nerazzurri were humbled by lowly Siena who could now, without their six-point deduction, be sitting safely outside the drop zone.

“We could have done a lot better, it’s a tough defeat,” said Inter’s Andrea Stramaccioni. “I don’t like looking for excuses, it was a painful loss which makes us angry. I’ll take the blame, but I am sure that we can still reach our goal and qualify for the Champions League.”

“That defeat burns,” echoed Lazio boss Vlad Petkovic. “But we have shown before that we can bounce back and we will do so again. We played a bad first half and Genoa did well to keep believing they could get the win.”

Their slip-ups allowed Fiorentina to prosper with a morale-boosting victory over Parma. David Pizarro was back pulling the strings, Luca Toni and Stevan Jovetic found their scoring boots and Emiliano Viviano returned to the goals to keep a clean sheet. The Chianti was slipping down a lot more easily at the post-match meal.

Things will have a much more bitter taste in Pescara and Palermo, however, where the form line is starting to look like spelling out Serie B. Both sides suffered home defeats to direct relegation rivals in the shape of Bologna and Atalanta respectively. As an American sports commentator once commented – the Fat Lady may not yet be singing for them, but she is surely clearing her throat.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
I am a Juventus supporter, but I am a big fan of Balotelli. I live in England and the abuse Mario was subjected to by moronic fans and especially the media was disgusting. Most of the stories written about him were just lies. Slagging Mario off whilst lauding morally bankrupt morons like Rooney, Terry and Cole. I would have loved Mario at Juventus, but he was only every going to join his boyhood team. I think next season will be a straight fight between Milan and Juventus...the way it should be.
on the 18th February, 2013 at 8:49pm
Balo is an incredible footballer i am juve fan but milan have snapped up the star striker juve has been looking for in the past 2 years and they will definitely come in 3rd now, we remain superior to all the teams but its time to get this blessed TOP striker FORZA JUVE
on the 6th February, 2013 at 8:54am
I don't support any club and believe that I can look at things objectively. There has been injustice to all the clubs! The bottom line is that the officiating this season has been sub-standard. The goal-line assistants have not made a positive difference, and if anything, have over-complicated matters. Just like the FIGC, the standard of refereeing reeks of incompetence.
on the 5th February, 2013 at 10:33am
Milan played better than Udinese doesn't mean they deserve a penalty to win the game. But the haters going gaga about the non-deserving penalty mustn't forget that Milan were denied a deserving penalty minutes before. Allegri didn't fail to accept the truth but what did Buffon and Conte do after the Muntari goal last year ?
on the 5th February, 2013 at 6:43am
LOL I'm not even surprise Milan got that penalty they always get those kind of calls when the need it same with their dirty crosstown cousins. It's always and forever will be Juventus vs the rest of Italy. Only Juventus incidence gets magnified while everyone else gets the benefit of the doubt. It's shocking how easily Milan gets these calls without hesitation even when everyone can see it's not a penalty. The rest of Italy can keep trying but at the end of the day they can't stop the CHAMPS!
on the 5th February, 2013 at 2:25am
Yea must admit am happy to see balo back, I also can't wait till totti chases him half way down the pitch and kicks him pure quality!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 10:42pm
So we're not even going to get the pleasure of a vicious blog accusing 'a higher power' of match-fixing on the part of Milan? I feel ripped off. I guess its alright when either of the Milan clubs win with dubious decisions. I firmly believe that deeply ingrained in Italian culture Juventus to Serie A is much like Goliath to David. No one roots for Goliath, and surely no-one will complain if David gets a helping hand. Stay tunned for more bianconeri blasphamy folks!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 10:34pm
I dont think the game was fixed the ref was terrible
on the 4th February, 2013 at 10:11pm
Juve fans hate on every team lmao juve fans need a new sport to follow.the. genoa player kicked the ball onto his own hand in Italian football that is NOT a handball...get over it.... even allegri said it was a soft penalty there is nothing you can do to change the ref. Mario played a great game milan played good but had a couple lapses that if they were playing juve or napoli they would have lost. Midfield and defense had a couple screw ups. Udinese did not play to well. Milan just looked good
on the 4th February, 2013 at 10:08pm
Firstly, Forza Juve! Still on top despite the refs' best efforts. I'm enjoying the Napoli battle as they are worthy contenders and I wish we had Cavani upfront...
Good to see Balotelli back in Italy. If he can keep his head on his shoulders instead of up somewhere else, the national team will benefit greatly.
Now Zeman - please can someone put him out of his misery and shoot him? Who's he blaming now: Moggi? The pitch? The wind/rain/sun? You have no tactics other than all-attack. Go back to B!!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 9:18pm
LoL, everybody is so busy about Mario and the gifted penalty that nobody noticed Pato scored...
on the 4th February, 2013 at 8:30pm

So you think when Milan dominated a game they should win ? how can they win vs Udinese when there wasn't a penalty at the end? dominated means nothing if you cant score a goal.

Thats what happened during Milan vs Juventus, do you think Milan deserved the NON handsball penalty as well?

If this was Juventus vs Udinese, they'll be complains comes from Milan's fans

Udinese was robbed by Milan, before that Juve was robbed too by Milan !
on the 4th February, 2013 at 7:45pm
It wasn't a penalty we all know that even the article backs it up today from the meeting they had in Milan. Also, the genoa and juve game were discussed and determine it wasn't a penalty so everyone can now shut it and move on. At the end of the day, all the big teams get the penalties or favourable calls when needed and that goes for Juve and Inter. Bad to say, glad to see it happen to Udinese since they literally threw our champion league spots down the drain! Screw them!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 7:42pm
Another amateur Italian referee takes another amateur decision: second penalty for Milan out of nowhere during the season..

Viktor, double standards are not good. Try to be consistent always. A clear penalty is not a penalty when it's about Juve, and a clear defensive play is a penalty when it's about Milan because "they dominated during the match". Great & wonderful!! And funny!! :)))
on the 4th February, 2013 at 7:37pm
As much as I dislike Milan and Udinese too, Milan played well yesterday and had much more of the possession but football is about scoring goals not who played better so they didn't deserve the 3 points. SES conned the referee into giving a penalty when it was the perfect tackle and he knew it. And no I am not a Juve fan either...hate them even more and they have no right to complain about referees on this site or anywhere else after they were found guilty in calciopoli!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 7:29pm
A very encouraging start for Balotelli. His body language was very positive, and it was so refreshing to see him smile. Now the most important thing for him, is to put the same effort in each week. When you factor-in that he is still short of match fitness, that makes his debut even more impressive. Speaking of impressive, how good was Sestu yesterday?!
on the 4th February, 2013 at 6:23pm
I never said they should have got that penalty. It was very debatable and in my opinion not existing. However, Milan played a lot better and for that I'm happy. I was never really scared of losing it to Udinese as they barely had any offensive football throughout the game. So no, I do NOT think Milan deserved getting the pent. Regardless of their superior performance to udinese. Lost in translation,.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 6:09pm
Viktor, Your so funny. How did Milan rob Udinese? Well it's obvious. The game was going to be a draw, 1-1, until with the last kick of the game the ref awards a non existant penalty to Milan, a bit like what happened with Isla's 'Handball' at the San Siro Vs Juve. No doubt Milan had more shots, pocession etc. Isn't that normal for a team playing at home? So what's your point? No one is saying Milan didn't have more shots on goal, so that means Milan have to get a fake pen at the end of the game?
on the 4th February, 2013 at 6:03pm
So according to Milan fans because Milan dominated the game they should have got the penalty, right??? But yet when Juve are denied a clear penalty against Genoa for a handball and then against Lazio for Marchetti foul on Vucinic, it's part of football, right? Juve domanited Vs Genoa and deserved a penalty in the 93rd minute as well but instead Juve are a disgrace and it's all good? You guys are hypocrites and there can't be 1 rule for Juve and a different one for everyone else. Double standards
on the 4th February, 2013 at 5:15pm
Viktor - last time I checked you are not supposed to have penalties awarded because you played better thant the other team. This is not figure skating where judges award you points but rather you have to score goals.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 4:54pm
How can VIKTOR look in the mirror? To claim that the invented penalty didn't matter, after a full 11 months of screaming about Muntari and disregarding Matri's valid goal being chalked off? This is a disgrace. This match was fixed, I have no doubt. But, I suppose it's only news when Juve gets the benefit.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 4:38pm
im getting to really HATE italian football and the media in italy. if juventus won such a penalty in the 93rd minute (which is an obvious help from the ref and a real disgrace) then calciopoli 2. I was already saying what a tackle when i saw the ref give a pen. absolutely disgraceful match fixing, yetstill the media is absent and just concerned with salivating on mario. IF THAT WAS JUVE the blog would be about the penalty not the guy who scored a controversial pen. *&^% italian media FORZA JUV
on the 4th February, 2013 at 4:04pm
Udinese Robbed, Another FAKE pen to Milan"

Really?? Udinese had one shot at goal.. how did we robbed them?? The penalty was weak close to not existing but throughout the game Milan played WAY better and created a lot chance. There's no denial in that.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 3:55pm
"Udinese Robbed, Another FAKE pen to Milan" great name. I don't think there is any doubt it should not have been a penalty and I thought El Shaaraway's reaction when he went off and also after the final whistle suggested that he felt a little guilty. However Milan should still have got a penalty earlier when Balo was pulled down in the box. These things do balance themselves out.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 3:48pm
Milan get another dodgy oen in the 93rd minute to win a game which was 1-1. I wonder when football Italia will make a blog about this as it already happened Vs Juventus, Ball hits Isla on the ribs! And now this? I think it's time to question the ref and Milan's dodgy penalties at the San Siro.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 2:41pm
The 3 upfront seemed to work really well. Bonera was a disaster and nearly cost us the game. Flamini was quite good. Poor distribution though. While there can be no doubt the penalty should not have been given Udinese shouldn't forget that Balo was hauled down in the box on a cross and that should definitely have been a penalty. My faith is restored in Allegri and the changes he made last night were forced. He still needs to stick to the same line up barring injuries and suspensions.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 2:15pm
im happy to see mario plays for milan ! too bad he cant play against barcelona which will be a very interesting match !
on the 4th February, 2013 at 2:05pm
It will be interesting to see the parternship between El Shaarawy and Balotelli. On the contrary however, I think it is excessive for Milan to play with 3 forwards - it would be great for them to return to a 4-1-2-1-2, which was so successful under Ancelotti albeit a completely different team. Zeman getting the sack isn't really a surprise - Roma have one of the youngest teams for years but hired an aging coach - they were never going to pull in the same direction.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 11:55am
Got to say how good Balotelli plyed last night, something about him playing in Italy or for Italy brings out the class player he is. Milan had a huge lift with him on the pitch,destiny he would score two important goals in his first game. Milan will be back next season use the summer to get rid of more dead wood and they will sign couple of big players. Good to see them stick by Alegri maybe im wrong and he could leave in summer but for now he is getting the time needed to turn it round.
on the 4th February, 2013 at 11:34am
Super Mario forza Rosenero, forza Azzuri
on the 4th February, 2013 at 10:59am

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