It’s that time of the year again! In the midst of pre-season friendlies, many Serie A fans eagerly anticipate the traditional yearly “Trofeo Birra Moretti”, a 3-team tournament which showcases Juventus, Inter, and a 3rd top-level team. In past years, teams as prestigious as Udinese, Parma, Bari (ok you can stop laughing now ), Chelsea (and for the past 3 years, Napoli) have participated in the tournament, which usually provides some good pre-season excitement. This year the venue for the tournament was Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo, a stadium where home support is always at its fullest (over 60,000 fans were in the stands today, quite unique for a friendly tournament!!!).
This is the game format: each game consists of two halves of 22.5 minutes; should the game still be tied at the end of the 45 mins., it will go straight to penalty shots (past seasons included taking shoot-outs instead of P.Ks, with moderate success). Points are attributed as follows: 3 pts. for a win, 2 pts. for a P.K. win, 1 pt. for a P.K. loss, 0 pts. for a loss.
Let’s see how it all went down.
The first game of the day featured Juventus and Napoli, two teams that coincidentally had been competing in the same division last season in… Serie B. While Juve’s demotion was only temporary, Napoli have been absent from the Serie A for quite some time, their last appearance in Italy’s highest division being over 6 years ago. Napoli’s improving squad has brought them back to the top, and while we are still far from the pinnacles achieved in the 90’s with Maradona, the Neapolitans shouldn’t be underestimated.
On the other side, Ranieri’s Juve had to face with some last-minute defections due to injury, the most notable of which: Buffon, Grygera, Nedved and Camoranesi, usual starters in the Bianconeri team. The absence of side midfielders Nedved and Camoranesi was however an opportunity for Ranieri to test his attacking trio Del Piero-Trezeguet-Iaquinta right from the start.
Juve started the game at 100 miles/hr: Del Piero immediately exploited a good ball from Birindelli from the right wing, allowing the high cross to bounce before attempting a left-footed volley from a difficult position. The shot was narrowly wide!
Nocerino and Iaquinta’s mobility on the right side gave the Napoli defense quite a few problems in the initial minutes, but slowly Reja‘s team assumed control of the midfield and produced a few chances of their own. Dalla Bona‘s effort from long range created a big scare for Juve’s keeper Belardi, and the vivacity of Napoli’s new signing from San Lorenzo, Ezequiel Lavezzi, was bringing danger in the heart of the Juve defense on many occasions.
Eventually, shortly after the beginning of the 2nd “mini-half”, Juve’s captain took matters into his own hands. Exploiting Birindelli’s accurate low pass from the right wing, Alessandro Del Piero controlled the ball on the edge of the box, took a step to the left and slammed a hard left-footed shot low into the bottom corner. A great individual effort for the ony goal of the match! Napoli had an excellent opportunity to tie the game when Lavezzi broke through all alone on the right wing, but instead of shooting directly at goal he tried to set up Calaiò in the center, allowing Juve’s defense to get back and clear the danger.
Iaquinta had one final chance to double Juve’s score in the final seconds, but his shot (following a great half-volleyed attempt by Trezeguet) was narrowly wide. If there’s one thing that can be said about Juve’s pre-season matches, is that despite being one of the most active players on the field, the form of Vincenzo Iaquinta close to goal leaves something to be desired. Probably all he needs is a goal to break the ice.
|GOALSCORERS: 26’ Del Piero (J)|
|NAPOLI (3-5-2): Iezzo – Cannavaro, Domizzi, Maldonado – Garics, Hamsik, Gargano, Dalla Bona, Savini – Calaiò, Lavezzi. Coach: Reja.|
|JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Belardi – Birindelli, Andrade, Criscito, Molinaro – Tiago, Almiron, Nocerino – Del Piero, Trezeguet, Iaquinta. Coach: Ranieri|
In the 2nd game of the day, Inter and Napoli delighted the 60,000 fans of Stadio San Paolo with a much more offensive-geared display. The first minutes were a classic example of a match in which momentum shifted constantly, allowing one team to take a stab at the opposing keeper, and be imitated a few minutes later by their opponents.
Figo opened the festivities with a powerful mid-range attempt, deflected narrowly wide by the Napoli keeper Gianello. Then, it was time for Roberto “El Pampa” Sosa to knock at Inter’s door: two attempts only a hair away from opening the score (a smashing missile from outside the box, then a hard header following a cross by Rullo)! Then back to the other side: before the end of the 1st half, Zlatan Ibhrahimovic almost suprised the Napoli keeper with a cross-shot from the left wing that got stamped on the top part of the crossbar.
In the 2nd half, Inter’s better physical form shifted the game to their advantage, as they produced two quick consecutive blows to the Napoli defense. First, it was Stankovic suprising everyone with a low 25m shot that skidded all the way into the bottom left corner. A great strike from the distance! The Napoli players didn’t even have enough time to pick up the ball in their net, and Inter struck again! Advancing through on goal from the left side, Suazo eluded the marking of two Napoli players to drop back to the center and swing the ball to the far post, a delightful curling shot that the keeper could not reach. 2-0.
|GOALSCORERS: 31’ Stankovic (I), 32’ Suazo (I)
|NAPOLI (3-5-2): Gianello – Cupi, Cannavaro, Domizzi (34’ Capparella) – Grava, Gatti, Montervino, Hamsik (29’ Bucchi), Rullo – De Zerbi, Sosa. Coach: Reja
|INTER (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar – Rivas, Materazzi, Chivu, Maxwell – Vieira, Dacourt, Stankovic, Figo – Suazo, Ibrahimovic. Coach: Mancini.|
Following the first two games, the Trofeo Moretti would therefore once again be in contention of Inter and Juventus, in the “game of the day” that fans were anticipating most eagerly. However, perhaps because neither coach wanted to “reveal his tactics” too much (for their first match-up of the season), both teams fielded their reserve squads (also to give the other players a chance to play I guess… it’s pre-season friendlies’ time after all). So all the hype was perhaps misplaced, as Inter coach Roberto Mancini pointed to the TV interviewers before the game (“All these pre-season games are totally meaningless, they are what they are: pre-season games” was his declaration).
Meaningless or not, Inter took the game by the reins right from the beginning. It only took 90 seconds for Cesar to exchange passes with Adriano on the edge of the box, benefit from a (bit lucky) bounce off the leg of Boumsong, and get behind the defense to beat Belardi with a hard shot on net. 1-0 for Inter. Inter’s verve continued in the first half, with Cesar and Jiménez often creating danger in the Juve zone. Jiménez notably produced a great shot from the mid-distance at min. 8 that Belardi had to deflect into corner.
Following that, momentum shifted a bit in the favor of the Bianconeri team, with Toldo being called into action: first to deflect a close-range shot by Zalayeta onto the post, then again two minutes later with an attempt by ex-Inter player Cristiano Zanetti. There wasn’t much worth mentioning in the 2nd half, except for the fact that Juve was perhaps the most active team in trying to equalize, without succeeding.
|GOALSCORERS: 2’ Cesar (I)|
|INTER (4-3-1-2): Toldo – Fatic, Desenclos (32’ Filippini), Rivas, Cesar – Bolzoni, Filkor (41’ Pedrelli), Solari – Jimenez; Adriano, Cruz. Coach: Mancini|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Belardi – Zebina (9’ Birindelli), Boumsong, Andrade, Molinaro – Zanetti, Nocerino (25’ Olivera), Almiron, Salihamidzic – Palladino, Zalayeta. Coach: Ranieri.
NAPOLI: There is no doubt that out of the three teams observed today, Napoli is the one with weakest technical baggage. But there is strong motivation in the Neapolitan side, returning to Serie A after so long, and if there is one thing than can be said for certain is that these guys will play their hearts out this year! New signing Ezequiel Lavezzi notably, produced the most danger while he was on, and it’ll be interesting to see how he can co-exist with top Napoli scorers Calaiò and Sosa.
JUVENTUS: There is undoubtedly still a lot of work left for the Bianconeri. Part of the blame for the recent less-than-brilliant pre-season performances so far, can perhaps be attributed to the to the players missing in action (Nedved, Camoranesi etc.), as well as the injuries of those most in form (Grygera, Marchionni). However, team organization needs to improve (especially in defense), and players like Salihamidzic and Iaquinta have been somewhat disappointing so far. On the positive side, captain Del Piero is armed & ready for the new season, motivated perhaps more than anyone. He has certainly been the most in form for the Bianconeri in the pre-season so far.
INTER: They are of course the favorites for the scudetto this year (alongside “usual suspects” AC Milan, Roma, and perhaps Juve), but Inter’s pre-season friendlies so far have been somewhat puzzling. A great performance at Old Trafford (beating Manchester United 3-2) was followed by an abysmal display against a moderate team (loss vs. Aston Villa 3-0), so the thing Mancini needs to work the most on perhaps is consistency, and not taking your opponents for granted. On the upside, Inter’s new Honduran signing, David Suazo, has integrated perfectly into his new squad. His chemistry with Ibrahimovic is top notch (it looks as if these two have played together for years), and so far he has always delivered with at least 1 goal in Inter’s matches in which he played. I have to admit that Inter’s attacking duo Zlatan-Suazo is looking very impressive at the moment. If they can get Adriano back to his finest form, they will be very hard to stop indeed.
As a final note: each individual match box has a YouTube link with goals/highlights for that game (click the match title). But for those of you that want only a quick video highlights summary, here‘s the news report by Studio Sport.