It has all come down to this: Italy’s most famous three teams face vital midweek showdowns that will decide their European footballing fate.
Inter, Juventus, and Milan could all tumble out of the Champions League if results go against them, but, at least, their fates are in their own hands.
Incredibly, Serie A’s comparative minnows Fiorentina are already through.
Allow me to pause for a moment to savour that statement...
Unlike the Viola, however, the rest of the Italian teams face three key clashes that will go a long way to deciding how successful their seasons have been. There is little doubt Inter have the most to lose.
Inter has won the Italian league so often recently that the trophy has come to seem like part of the furniture at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium. But while domestic success has come easy, European triumphs have not.
The boys in blue and black have been underachievers in continental competition, and Jose Mourinho was hired to address that problem.
He has failed so far.
On Wednesday night, his team takes on Rubin Kazan, knowing that only a win will do—unless, of course, a draw happens to be all right. Such is the nature of Inter’s group that it could sneak through with a share of the spoils. In some ways, it would be a fitting end to a pretty lacklustre campaign.
Javier Zanetti and company warmed up for the key match with a league defeat to Juve which cut their lead at the top of Serie A to just four points. If they collapse out of Europe, it would crown a bad week.
Their weekend conquerors, Juventus, also face a tricky tie.
On Tuesday night, Bayern Munich visit Turin in an all-or-nothing game for the German side. Nothing less than a win will do for Louis van Gaal’s men if they are to keep their campaign alive.
Ciro Ferrara’s men were boosted by the weekend win over Inter and progress in Europe would be a further tonic to the young manager.
It is likely to be a night in which nerves are tested to the full.
The most comfortable of Italy’s trio of giants should be Milan.
Milan travels to Zurich, who shocked the team in the San Siro, knowing that even in defeat it might make it through. However, Milan will want to get the win it needs to be certain of qualification and should be in the form to do so.
Leonardo’s side brushed off Sampdoria on Saturday and have grown in confidence enormously since the Swiss side beat it earlier this season.
The outcome of these midweek tussles could yet see all four Italian sides progress to the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition.
And that, for a league written off by many as inferior to England and Spain, would be a major triumph.
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