What was once the most followed league in the world is on the rise once again. Serie A (Italy’s top tier of football) has seen a decline since its glory days (mid 80’s to early 2000s). The league was decimated by the match-fixing scandal known as “calciopoli” in 2006 which sent shockwaves around the sporting world. Juventus, the 36-time Italian league champions, were disqualified and sent down to a lower division. Imagine seeing the New York Yankees sent to the minor leagues for an entire season! The reputation of Italian soccer had been ruined, fans stopped filling the seats at stadiums, and revenues crumbled across the entire league. This all contributed to the exodus of star power from Italy thus making the Spanish La Liga and the English Premiership the epicenters of world football.
Prior to calciopoli, the Italian league lived its golden era. The 2002/3 edition of Europe's biggest tournament, saw 3 of the 4 semi-finalists come out of Italy; (Juventus, AC Milan, and Internazionale) joined by Spanish giants Real Madrid. That year Milan went on to lift the coveted Champions League trophy for the 6th time in their illustrious history in an all-Italian final, proving yet again that the Italian league was too strong for Europe’s finest.
The post-calciopoli era hasn’t been as triumphant for Serie A sides. In the last 3 years, no Italian team has made it through to the quarter-finals with Juventus being eliminated 3 years on the trot in the round of 16, while European giants (7 time European Champions) AC Milan hadn't qualified for the competition in 8 years. One exception was Inter lifting the trophy in 2017 but failing to maintain its status since that win.
After years of struggle, changes in tactics, and philosophy, the dark ages may be coming to an end. The Italians have made their case and are telling the world “we’re back!”. If Italy’s Euro Cup win wasn’t convincing enough in 2021 the current season is further proof that the Italians are back.
This year four teams from Italy participated in the group stage of the champions league. AC Milan (the current champions of Italy) was joined by Juventus, Internazionale, and Napoli.
Three of these teams have managed to progress from the group stage while Juventus crashed out of the competition in embarrassing fashion.
Napoli started their European campaign earning praise from one of the world's best tacticians Jurgen Klopp who said, “Napoli plays the best football in Europe and can make it to the finals”. So far this season the Napoletani have defeated two legendary clubs in spectacular fashion; Ajax of Amsterdam with a staggering scoreline of 6-1 and 6-time UEFA Champions League winners Liverpool by a score of 4-1. North of the Italian peninsula, Internazionale surprised the odd-markers by finishing second in a group that nobody predicted they would get out of. AC Milan booked their ticket to the final 16 by squeezing through Group E and finally returning to the knockout rounds after almost a decade.
The Italian clubs are by no means favorites in the tournament but there is a feeling of optimism among the supporters that this year, Serie A clubs can take back some of the respect that the league has lost over the last decade. The upcoming round of 16 sees Napoli and their new star “Kvaradona”(nicknamed after the legendary Diego Maradona) as heavy favorites against Eintracht Frankfurt. Inter has drawn FC Porto of Portugal. Although Porto has upset some of the best in recent years, experts have tipped Inter to make it though. Finally, AC Milan has been matched with Tottenham Hotspurs who are coached by former Italian national team coach and former Juventus star, Antonio Conte. The Rossoneri have drawn the toughest opponent but Italian Coach of the Year Stefano Pioli believes his boys have the talent and courage to progress against one of England's best clubs.
The round of 16 will begin with matchups on February 14th, 2023 leaving much to the imagination over the next few months.
Michele Lo Medico
Born in Palermo, Italy, Michele Lo Medico is an Italian immigrant who spent years living in Bagheria, Sicily developing a strong passion for soccer. Now living in Niagara Falls, Canada, he is a student of the game, and former player at the Provincial level in Canada who acquired expertise in world soccer with emphasis on the Italian Serie A and the National team. Furthermore, taking his knowledge to the bench as a college soccer coach. Now, a successful hotelier by day with a love for travel, his family, friends and fiance Christina.