The EuroDerby brings together two footballing juggernauts together in the Champions League for the first time in 30 years and it was something no one had conceived. Even for Italian football, it wasn’t something anyone expected when the season started. But the EuroDerby, in itself, is a vital moment in Italian football history.
After nine years of total domination from Juventus over football in Italy, the pattern seems to finally be changing. Legendary teams that had fallen dormant for the last decade, be it in national or European competitions, seem to at last be coming back from their slumbers.
Since 2021, three different teams have won the Serie A title, and none of those have been Juventus. The two giants of Milano – Inter and Milan, have risen back from some of the darkest periods both clubs have had, each winning a league title, respectively in 2021 and 2022.
More importantly perhaps, and definitely most surprisingly, Napoli, the club that lived its golden years along with possibly the greatest football legend of all time in Diego Armando Maradona, have just won their first Scudetto in over 30 years. Shortly after the death of the Argentine hero in 2020, the club changed its stadium name to ‘Diego Armando Maradona’, inspired by their late idol. And thanks to brilliant sports management, the pupils of Luciano Spalletti, one of the most experienced coaches in Italy, the Partenopei took the third Scudetto home. In fact, Spalletti quite rightly said it during the press conference after the game at Udinese that sealed the deal for the Napolitans:
“I am sure there is also Maradona’s blessing for bringing this home five matches before the end.”
Considering that Argentina also won the World Cup, we can rest assured that Diego is happy watching it all from the skies. It is a fitting tribute to his footballing legacy.
The Napoli side was also surprising some in the Champions League, demonstrating an extremely attractive and offensive brand football in performances against Liverpool and Ajax, as they beat those clubs to a pulp, defeating the Reds 4-1 and the Godenzonen 6-1. At one point, the media were already predicting Napoli to win the competition, but Milan destroyed that dream with a 2-1 aggregate victory, showing off their defensive prowess in Naples and counting on a counter attacking strategy, supported by the Portuguese rising star Rafael Leão.
This brings us to Italy in Europe.
There are Italian representatives in all three competitions, now at the semi-final stages, leaving a lot of room to imagine a possible Italian European champion again. Last year, Roma boss José Mourinho, despite multiple problems both in the squad and at the club, made sure that he won the Conference League – the only European trophy missing under his belt. He, thus, helped Roma in winning their first silverware in thirteen years.
Currently, and despite continuing internal difficulties, the Giallorossi have a guaranteed presence in the Europa League semi- finals. Having already won big European competitions five times, including two Europa League titles, the Special One and his team will give everything to claim a spot in the final in Budapest, and the disappointing league results probably show that. But for that to happen, they will have to beat a strong Bayer Leverkusen over two legs.
On the other side of the draw, Juventus mark their presence in the semi-final against the Europa League specialists Sevilla. Despite not being at their best, La Vecchia Signora still have a say in this season after three, not trophyless, but definitely unfulfilling seasons.
Trying to replace Roma as the new Conference League champions are ACF Fiorentina. La Viola have shown great performances in the European competition, in contrast to what the league season has been, and are betting every chip on it, in order to obtain their first European title in 60 years.
Concerning the Champions League, the fact that two Italian teams still say ‘present’ is without a doubt the biggest European surprise, as the last time this happened was back in 2003, when three Italian teams made it to this stage of the competition.
For football fans all around the world, being able to witness a European Derby della Madonnina over the course of two legs is one of the most delightful presents they could be offered. In the last couple of years, both these teams have been growing, fighting for titles, trying to get back to their old ways, and we can be rest assured that they will do everything in their power to claim a spot in the final, thus providing football fans with a great spectacle.
After a decade of dark times in Italian football, of a single club domination – much like in German football – the sport in Italy seems to be getting back on its feet and is being more competitive, both nationally and internationally. Could we be witnessing a return to the legendary status that Serie A clubs had back in the nineties and early 2000s? As football fans, one can only hope so.
David Pacheco | GIFN