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Quality fare on show!

Discussing the quality of the Serie A and its relative status in comparison with the Premiership and Spain's La Liga is a most futile exercise.

Does anyone except anoraks and football's version of trainspotters really care if the Italian league comes first or second or third?

Do sponsors, since we seem to be surrounded by hundreds of 'exclusive Serie A partners' but we then find out Germany's Bundesliga actually attracts more corporate money despite its less than exotic appeal (or perhaps because of it?).

Who cares, really?

Well, I don't, but it could sometimes be a good idea to pick out a random game and see if you end up regretting you gave that 15th rerun of Die Hard a miss.

Or that you did not take the train to the San Siro for Alberto Zaccheroni's debut on Inter's bench. Take Parma-Modena, for instance.

A local derby, a team - Parma - known for its good football and another - Modena - who had enjoyed three consecutive wins, although they had all come at the expense of less than spectacular sides like Bologna, Empoli and Lecce.

As local derbies go, this is not probably the fiercest one in the region of Emilia Romagna, despite the proximity (barely half hour by train) of the two towns: Modena fans would rather beat Bologna or Reggiana - now in Serie C1 and out of the picture - while Parma have similar tendencies towards Reggiana (again).

But both sets of fans were up for it from the start, though the Modena ones stuck to their now traditional habit of staying silent for 18 minutes, one-fifth of a match, in protest of serial-owner Enrico Preziosi, who already is a majority shareholder of Genoa and who had apparently bought one-fifth of Modena shares during the summer, although Modena supremo Romano Amadei has allegedly bought him out again.

What could one expect from such a game? Parma had played brilliant football from the first day of the season, but their last outing, at Roma, had resulted in a comprehensive 2-0 defeat against one of the in-form teams in the league.

As Soccernet readers will remember from the Adriano story a few weeks ago, Parma coach Cesare Prandelli had switched to a 4-2-3-1 setup after last season's top scorer Adrian Mutu had heeded Chelsea's call and left. Italian Under 21 star Alberto Gilardino, who scored four goals against Wales last September in Italy's 8-1 win, is still not deemed worthy of a first-team place, so Adriano is again the lone man up front.

What makes Parma's set-up play so good, though, is not Adriano's running among (and at times through) the last line of defenders, but the frequently sublime interpassing between the men behind him.

With Modena playing in a 3-4-2-1 which clearly becomes a 5-4-1 when the opponents attack, it was going to be a fascinating opportunity to see two different teams facing each other, with not one international superstar between them (Adriano will soon become one, though) but plenty of interesting players, one further proof that sometimes quality can be found outside the Serie A's Big Five.

One of them, Domenico Morfeo, the central man of the three behind Adriano, is always going to be talked about in wildly diverging manners. Now 27, as a 17-year old he'd done wonders for his hometown team Atalanta, earning himself a transfer to Fiorentina in 1997 before embarking on a wandering tour of Italy's underachievers (Cagliari, Verona, Fiorentina again, Atalanta) and finally getting a chance to shine on the grandest stage, last year at Inter.

Not surprisingly considering his erratic talent and the general mess at the Nerazzurri, he not only failed to impress, but ended the season rock-bottom with the fans, a frequent target of abuse from a large portion of the San Siro.

This precipitated a move to Parma, which is seen by many as his last chance to establish himself and show he can lead a team and not only come along for the ride. His main rival in the Parma squad is former Bradford City, er, saviour Benny Carbone, but Morfeo has clearly been winning the internal battle.

The rest of the game saw Morfeo disappear for long stretches, or try to be too clever for his own good, although it must be easy for him to think he can do everything.

On Sunday he showed a summary of everything that is infuriatingly good and awkward about him: at the beginning of the game he was buzzing around all over the front line, creating chances for wide men Marchionni (especially) and Bresciano with first-time touches that left the Modena defence one step behind all the time.

Morfeo scored on 27 minutes, although his goal had little to do with any particular personal skill, picking up a loose ball a few yards from goal and slamming it in with his left foot.

The rest of the game saw Morfeo disappear for long stretches, or try to be too clever for his own good, although it must be easy for him to think he can do everything.

In the hour between Parma's first and second goals the game offered more reason to be optimistic about the state of Serie A outside the so-called giants.

Modena and Parma faced each other without giving up their own peculiarities: hence crisp, quick inter-passing between midfielders in the home side, which tried to draw the opposing defence closer then spring the ball forward in a style that cannot fail to impress any neutral observer, especially so when Adriano holds up the ball well and engages his marker(s), creating space for others.

Modena, on the other hand, usually rely on quick service to the forwards, with Nicola Amoruso as a target man flanked by entreprising Senegal striker Diomansy Kamara and Allegretti, but schemer Omar Milanetto was not at his best in this game, his socks lowered to mid-calf gave him the appearance of a footballing genius left to his own devices.

Milanetto was unable to provide more than a few ambitious touches which rarely reached their targets, although they showed the depth and perception of his football mind.

The game flowed easily, neither side accepting the 1-0 as the final result, and the outcome was decided with less than five minutes to go, moments after Milanetto's partner in the middle of the pitch, Scoponi, had been sent off for slapping Parma left-back Junior.

Adriano: Line leader and star man for Parma.
Adriano: Line leader and star man for Parma.

First, Morfeo, resurfacing after rarely being part of the action in the second half as Modena squeezed him, flicked the ball to Adriano, unmarked inside the visitors' penalty, and the Brazilian scored his seventh goal of the campaign with a left-footer, while seconds later a left wing ball from Junior was met at the far post by Marchionni's right-footed half-volley, which gave the result an appearance which Modena surely did not deserve.

It was just one of nine Serie A games in the weekend, and in no way can it be taken as a yardstick for the quality of Italian football, as Parma and Modena have already showed they can play better football than most of the also-rans, but considering that only seven day before I had witnessed a festival of misplaced passes, wayward shots, an apparent abscence of any set plays and comical goals in the 2-2 draw between Bologna and Perugia, it is a safe bet to say that any visitor to Italy would be well advised to take in a game of Parma or Modena and wonder at how lesser-known players can produce fine moments.

Perhaps those Japanese fans who are conspicuous among Parma fans for each game had it right from the beginning, although their hero Hidetoshi Nakata hardly gets a game for the home side these days.

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