THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Alessandria and Spezia ensure one club below Serie A will reach semi-finals

icon minnow22 December ~ There will be a team from outside Serie A in one of the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. This is not what was meant to happen because the format of the competition is designed to ensure that its final stages are contested solely by some of the country’s top clubs.

Briefly, the Coppa Italia involves 78 clubs, including a few from Serie D. The 22 Serie B clubs enter in the second round and Serie A’s also-rans in the third. These rounds were all completed by the middle of August this year. The 16 survivors contested the fourth round in the first week in December, and the winners of those ties then played the top eight from last season’s Serie A from December 15-17 in the fifth round.

Up to and including this round the home team is always the one with a higher league finish in the previous season, and as can be seen, the cream of Serie A only have to get through three rounds to reach the final. The reason for this seeding is that from the fourth round every match is shown live on one of the channels of state TV (RAI). They want good viewing figures to attract plenty of advertising. To do that they need the best supported teams.

You could argue that there is nothing wrong with seeding. After all, it’s a given in tennis. But in tennis even the seeds have to start in the first round. And here it is just being used to satisfy the demands of TV. It surely cannot be right when broadcasters dictate the format of a sporting competition.

This year, however, things are not going to plan. In the fourth round Lega Pro (third tier) Alessandria, from Piemonte in the north west, won 3-2 at Serie A Palermo, which resulted in three Palermo players being excluded from the team, allegedly for not trying. The win earned Alessandria a tie at Genoa, and they won again, 2-1 after extra time.

They did it playing very good football and, after making all their substitutions, they played the last ten minutes of normal time and all of extra time with ten men because of an injury. They also overcame the disappointment of Genoa equalising in stoppage time at the end of the regulation 90 minutes.

Alessandria was the birthplace and the first club of "Golden Boy" of Italian football, Gianni Rivera. He turned out for them in Serie A in 1960 at the age of 16. They have spent 13 seasons in the top flight and 20 in Serie B, but have been absent at these levels since 1975. They are currently top of their group in Lega Pro.

In the quater-final Alessandria will visit mid-table Serie B side Spezia, who caused almost as big a shock when they eliminated Roma on penalties (4-2) after a dire 0-0 draw in which the Serie A side were simply awful. There is even the suggestion that some players might be playing against coach Rudi García. Certainly the way Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko missed their penalties looked odd to some.

The third shock was struggling Carpi’s 1-0 win against Fiorentina in Florence, the goal coming after 75 minutes from Antonio di Gaudio, one of the heroes of last season’s promotion campaign. They will visit Milan in the quarter-final with the winners playing either Alessandria or Spezia in the two-legged semi final. Not surprisingly, Milan see this as their one real chance of silverware. Milan’s 2-0 win against Sampdoria was also away from home, but it was hardly a shock, just a reflection of how badly last season went.

In the other half of the draw everything went to form, and the quarter finals are Lazio v Juventus and Napoli v Inter. However, the important thing is that Alessandria, Spezia and Carpi have breathed some life into a moribund competition, and have shown that however hard you may try to manipulate its outcome, once the players take the field, anything can happen. And even in Italy it sometimes does. Richard Mason

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