What happened to Italian football?


With Serie A showcasing the world’s best footballing talent in the 1990s, the stodgy fare on offer at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris yesterday bore testament to the many obituaries written about the Italian game during the all too public regression of Gli Azzurri.

Of course, it may just have been a bad day at the office for Genoa and visitors Atalanta but it was the acres of space that were available for midfield runners which was shocking for anyone schooled in the days of watching Paul Gascoigne, Attilio Lombardo and Arrigo Sacchi’s peerless Milan side.

Atalanta scrapped their way into the top four last season and their rightful reward is a Champions League campaign which starts in Zagreb on Wednesday night and also encompasses two assignment against Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side are lauded domestically for their high-press but the Nerazzurri hardly suffocated their hosts in Genoa on Sunday. However, that was nothing to the concertina shape Genoa crumpled into when the visitors attacked, the nominal midfield three of the hosts collapsing into a back-eight which offered acres of space to an Atalanta midfield rarely able to exploit the opportunity and left forwards Andrea Pinamonti and Christian Kouamé hopelessly isolated up top.

As their opponents retreated, Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic, Remo Freuler and Alejandro Gomez failed to find a way through, with the latter particularly prone to running up blind alleys and the Bergamasque side had to rely on the promptings of link man Josip Ilicic dropping ever deeper.

Fittingly the game appeared set to hinge on two errors, Zapata awarded a penalty after a VAR examination of the challenge meted out to him by namesake Christian Zapata in the 61st minute, former Sampdoria forward and substitute Luis Muriel rolling home the pressure spot-kick some three minutes after the incident.

The hosts’ penalty appeared more marginal, Kouamé going down under challenge from Berat Djimsiti. When skipper Domenico Crisito fired into the roof of the net in the 91st minute, a suitably humdrum draw appeared in prospect.

But there is one thing that appears to be unchanged from Serie A’s days of glory – a lovable penchant for high drama and explosive finishing, and so it proved.

There appeared little danger as Atalanta again tried to find a route through Genoa’s eight-man rearguard ticked into a fifth minute of injury time but the visitors’ Zapata unleashed a ferocious effort from nowhere that cannoned in off the underside of Andrei Radu’s crossbar to temporarily silence the raucous fans in the home curva.

Genoa (5-3-2): Andrei Radu; Paolo Ghiglione (Peter Ankersen, 82), Cristian Romero, Christian Zapata, Domenico Criscito, Antonio Barreca (Goran Pandev, 82); Lukas Lerager, Ivan Radovanovic (Riccardo Saponara, 70), Lasse Schöne; Christian Kouamé, Andrea Pinamonti. Subs not used: Federico Marchetti, Chitolina Jandrei, Edoardo Goldaniga, Antonio Sanabria, Jawad El Yamiq, Davide Biraschi, Filip Jagiello, Andrea Favilli, Marko Pajač.

Atalanta: (3-5-2): Pierluigi Gollini; Rafael Toloi, Berat Djimsiti, Andrea Masiello; Hans Hateboer, Mario Pasalic (Marten De Roon, 56), Remo Freuler, Alejandro Gomez, Robin Gosens; Josip Ilicic (Luis Muriel, 59), Duvan Zapata. Subs not used: Francesco Rossi, Marco Sportiello, Simon Kjaer, José Palomino, Guilherme Arana, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Timothy Castagne, Roger Ibanez, Musa Barrow.


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