Italy’s stars fall back to earth in Serie A


Italy’s stunned internationals return to the mundane setting of Serie A this weekend days after their star status in world football imploded with a shocking World Cup exit.

Goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon was back training with Juventus after his emotional retirement from international duty after two decades, preparing for Sunday’s game at Sampdoria, along with fellow 2006 World Cup winner Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini.

Daniele De Rossi, another former world champion, was back at Roma for Saturday’s ‘Derby della Capitale’ against bitter city rivals Lazio.

“Obviously nobody expected it to end this way. It was an immense letdown not just for us, but for all Italians,” said Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy after the 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat by Sweden left four-time champions Italy out of the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

“I feel great bitterness, but we must get back on our feet and try to work towards the future,” he added.

Juventus captain Buffon and his Italian teammates can now fully focus on a chasing a seventh straight Serie A title and their Champions League campaign which continues against Barcelona midweek.

Napoli are top of the Italian league standings with 32 points from 12 games, a point ahead of Juventus with Inter Milan third on 30.

Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus head to Genoa to play Sampdoria, sixth with a game in hand, boosted by the return of German world champion Benedikt Hoewedes from injury.

Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, meanwhile, are looking to bounce back after being held before the international break, as they host under-pressure AC Milan.

Vincenzo Montella’s Milan are seventh after a 2-0 win over Sassuolo last time out but have struggled with big name rivals this season.

– Shadow of Anne Frank row –

Meanwhile, Rome’s bitter rivals clash for the first time this weekend since the storm triggered by Lazio fans posting anti-Semitic photos of Anne Frank in a Roma jersey.

The photos and stickers of Frank — the Jewish teenager who died in Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in 1945 — were stuck on glass barriers during a game against Cagliari three weeks ago.

The incident led to protests throughout Italy with Italian president Sergio Mattarella deploring the use of an image of Frank, with passages from her diary read before matches throughout the country.

The clash in the Stadio Olympico will be highly-charged as both teams have a lot at stake as they ride high in the league standings.

Lazio, in fourth, are four points adrift of Napoli with Roma a further point back in fifth, with both capital sides having a game in hand.

“It’ll be a game between two sides high in the standings,” said Eusebio Di Francesco, who oversees his first derby as Roma boss, and remembers with emotion playing it during his footballing days.

“The first time I played in a derby, we all came out under the Curva before the game. I never went weak in the knees before a game, but that time I did. It’s a unique emotion, it has never been a match like all the others.”

Roma’s Ciro Immobile, the top scorer in Serie A, is a doubt after aggravating a muscular problem playing for Italy.

Inter Milan will be looking to maintain their unbeaten run at home against mid-table Atalanta Sunday, but captain Mauro Icardi is uncertain as he recovers from a knee inflammation that kept him from playing with Argentina.

In mid-table, Chievo travel to Torino and Fiorentina play at struggling SPAL, with Bologna heading to Verona on Monday. Tailenders Benevento have a chance to end their record losing streak at home against fellow strugglers Sassuolo.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Roma v Lazio (1700), Napoli v AC Milan (1945)


Crotone v Genoa (1130), Benevento v Sassuolo, Sampdoria v Juventus, SPAL v Fiorentina, Torino v Chievo, Udinese v Cagliari (all 1400), Inter Milan v Atalanta (1945)


Verona v Bologna (1945)