As frequent readers of this site might have figured out by now, I love Italian football. The tactics, the clubs, the stadiums, the terminology, the passion; there’s something special about Italian football for me. A few weeks ago I decided to visit my second home country with my dad to experience the football closest to our hearts: il calcio.
We started off in the city of Milan, not far from my family’s home town of Palazzolo sull’Oglio in Lombardy. Lombardy is a traditionally strong footballing region with clubs such as Atalanta, Brescia, Como and of course the superpowers AC Milan and Internazionale. With the city of Milan as Italy’s footballing capital, despite the two club’s recent struggles, it was the perfect city to begin our trip in.
After finally landing at Malpensa Airport in Milan on Friday evening, via flights from Luleå, Stockholm and Munich, we took the bus into Fieramilanocity before walking to our superb little hotel Nuovo Murillo aptly located on the street Viale Murillo. Since the time had already become ten o’clock, we quickly checked in before going out for a splendid risotto dinner at the terrific Trattoria La Primula.
Saturday was game day, and the game was an in-form Inter at San Siro against bottom side Pescara. The game didn’t start until 20:45 so the day consisted of endless walks in a beautiful city. The cathedral Il Duomo, Europe’s third largest, is always a wonderful sight, Parco Sempione is perfect for a stroll after admiring Castello Sforzesco and there’s architecture to admire in almost every building. Another brilliant meal at La Primula, this time pizza, later and we were ready to go to San Siro.
If you haven’t been there before, you’re missing out. The stadium is rightly nicknamed La Scala del Calcio after the city’s famous opera house (also worth a visit) and it’s just a fantastic place to watch football. It beats Old Trafford, Camp Nou and Mestalla for me, and when there it really feels like the perfect place to watch football. The stadium holds over 80,000 spectators, but on this night it was only half full. Still, the famous Curva Nord can create an almost magical atmosphere with their flags, banners and songs. The Sempre Inter (always Inter) banners can be seen everywhere, and when the teams come out to the fans singing Pazza Inter it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand. It feels like you’re in for something special, and just imagine what it would have felt like if full. We had seats at the second tier of one of the long-sides and sat close to Curva Nord. Our section was almost full, so the noise was good.
Pescara started off as they usually do, by playing quick passing football with lots of central combinations which caused Inter some troubles. Valerio Verre also had a opener correctly ruled out for offside. From nothing Inter struck, when Marcelo Brozovic’ cross found Danilo D’Ambrosio who scored a rare goal from close range. Cue the Italian classic of the crowd responding to the stadium announcer’s shout of DA-NI-LO by screaming D’AM-BRO-SI-O multiple times.
Inter would then comfortably control the game and add to their lead ahead of half time through Joao Mario. In the stands we were responding again by hailing MA-RI-O. Second half, Inter cruised and should have added more goals than their third, scored by:
CITTADIN MARTINS; EDER
CITTADIN MARTINS; EDER
CITTADIN MARTINS; EDER.
Personally, I enjoyed watching Mauro Icardi live. He didn’t score, but assisted Eder’s strike and was terrific. His hold-up play was particularly impressing, with Icardi showing off his exquisite technique and immaculate touch whenever he was involved. Roberto Gagliardini also impressed with his tireless running, tackling and his passing which wasn’t remarkable but simple and effective which keeps the ball moving. Pescara’s play was in large parts really good, as usual, but they lack quality in both penalty areas. Their style is nice to watch though, and coach Massimo Oddo is destined for bigger clubs with better players.
After a very good Saturday, we were up early on Sunday morning to catch the 8.18 Trenitalia train to Turin from Milano Centrale. After arriving in Turin, we quickly continued travelling to Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino for the second game of the week, Torino-Atalanta. I was extremely excited by this one, the ultra-attacking home side under Sinisa Mihajlovic against Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-energy Atalanta. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
The stadium wasn’t massive, but sitting in the Granata stand in between both Curvas meant the atmosphere was really good. The 16,000 in attendance came together in singing Forza Vecchio Cuore Granata before kick-off and were then given a great show by the two teams, as Torino started at a frenetic pace and pressed Atalanta all over the pitch. Serbian Maverick Adem Ljajic had the first chance after dribbling through what felt like at least five players before shooting wide. They dominated totally, and took a deserved lead when young academy full-back Antonio Barreca dribbled down the left before putting in a fantastic cross for Iago Falqué to head in the opener. Cue the chants of:
Barreca waved his arms to further ignite the fire in the fans and the stadium was rocking. Atalanta fans were told to go home to Bergamo, Gasperini was branded a thief and Toro centre-back Emiliano Moretti was consistently hailed as the hero he is in Turin.
After their initial struggles, Atalanta started to grow into the game. Toro’s intensity eased up quite a bit, and Atalanta started to dominate possession. Their fluid 3-4-1-2/3-4-3 setup meant they man-marked in midfield against Toro’s midfield three and stopped the home side from playing, Remo Freuler got on the ball more in midfield and Alejandro Gomez was finally given the ball higher up the pitch. The biggest threat came from full-backs Leonardo Spinazzola and Andrea Conti who consistently got into good positions down the flanks.
At the start of the second half, Franck Kessie replaced the ineffectual Alberto Grassi and Atalanta instantly looked more dangerous with the Ivorian on the pitch. They pushed and pushed for the equaliser with Jasmin Kurtic and Andrea Petagna both being given excellent chances by Gomez and Spinazzola but wasted them. Petagna would eventually find an equaliser, firing in from close range. Kurtic then had another two excellent chances to win the game as Atalanta dominated. Mihajlovic tried to change the momentum by introducing Juan Iturbe for Mirko Valdifiori and went 4-2-4, but the ploy only helped Atalanta dominate even more. Kurtic had the last chance, missed again and the game finished 1-1. Based on this game it was easy to see why a brilliantly coached and well-drilled Atalanta are challenging the top while the chaotic Torino stay in mid-table.
Filled with the experience of a great game of Italian football, we strolled round the extraordinary beautiful centre of Turin before taking the train back to Milan and flew home the following day after a terrific weekend.
I would advise everyone to go down to Italy for a weekend, enjoy some brilliant food, beautiful cities and lovely football. It’s the perfect blend, and you’ll most likely catch nice weather too. Inter and Torino proved two great teams to visit and their stadiums were lovely, although in different senses. The passion among the fans at both clubs were nothing surprising, as it’s been the same when I’ve watched the likes of Fiorentina and Milan. If you want brilliant fan culture at games you go to Italy. Even if the stands might not be full you won’t regret it. Italy lives for football and that passion is evident in the stands.
For me, football is Italy, and Italy is football.