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Title dreams a long way off for Italy

The debate has long raged over which is the most well-equipped country to mount a serious challenge on the Champions League title. Is it the English clubs (who have had the most recent success), Spain (with all the summer's transfer business) or someone else? Well, this year, the calls have been heard loudest from Italy as the country attempts to overcome the loss of their finest players - Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - to La Liga.

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In actual fact, Italy boasts more winners over the years than England, and is only one behind Spain (on 12). They have more runners-up (14) than any other country by quite some margin, so why has there been such dismissal over the years when it comes to their chances of winning the trophy again?

Quite simply, it is the lack of consistency that Italian clubs have managed both in their own domestic league and in Europe's top competition. The most impressive side in Serie A this season - Sampdoria - aren't even in the Champions League, having finished 13th last season and you have to go back to the mid 90s for the dominance of the competition that many Italian fans expect. Back to back wins in the late 80s were impressive but, before then, it was the mid 60s when Inter and Milan last made a real impact at this level.

Before this season's Champions League began, there had been talk that the Serie A clubs were finally ready to shake off the tag of 'underachievers' that has followed them since AC Milan last won in 2007. Inter have received the most press given the high profile of coach Jose Mourinho and the acquisition of the man billed to be the difference for them in big competitions - Samuel Eto'o - but the Italian sides have not exactly set the world alight at the start of the competition.

Showing their hand in the first game against Barcelona, Inter played so defensively at home to Barcelona that they killed any chance they had of winning the game. Granted they picked up a draw against arguably the world's best team, but can anyone with real aspirations for glory claim that parking the bus in front of your goal when on home soil is the way to do it?

Certainly a disappointing 1-1 draw away at Russian champions Rubin Kazan has hindered their hopes, but it was not a huge surprise. A change in tactics (playing three up front) against Sampdoria in the league didn't seem to work, despite the quality that they have on offer, and the Inter players don't look happy in their new system.

Having a loose cannon like Mario Balotelli doesn't help matters - he was sent off against Rubin for a second yellow card - but there are bigger problems at hand. With such a high expectation level, the fans could be the next to turn.

Indeed, rivals Milan have suffered from this problem and they offer the other hope. They picked up a great win away at Marseille on the first matchday, relying on the evergreen Filippo Inzaghi to bag two goals, but have been woeful in the league. Just 34,000 fans turned up at the San Siro to watch them on Sunday - unsurprising given the drab nature of their 0-0 draw - but their marquee players have not been firing. Fans can expect more from the likes of Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo and Klass Jan Huntelaar, but, shorn of Kaka, they do not pose the same threat as the side that walked away with the trophy in 2007.

Juve, too, don't look the force that they once were. There are signs that new-signing Diego and a reinvigorated David Trezeguet could give them more firepower and, in Gianluigi Buffon, they have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment; but the Old Lady have been guilty of losing concentration at vital times and should expect more than to draw at home against Bordeaux and Bologna.

Along with the big names of Italian football come Fiorentina, who were not expected to progress much further beyond the group stages (if that) after losing 1-0 to Lyon in their first game. However, a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Liverpool - inspired by Stevan Jovetic - gave them reason to smile after an underwhelming win over Livorno at the weekend. Still, they have been attracting more attention off the field of late as Andrea Della Valle's decision to stand down as president has caused turmoil in Florence.

For a club that was pulled back from the brink of oblivion - having been bankrupted and dropped to the 4th tier of the league only seven years ago - it is a shame, but they have not been able to bring in the type of players that would make a significant difference at this level. Selling Felipe Melo to Juventus for £19 million, the club also sold young starlet Giampaolo Pazzini to Sampdoria and have few outstanding players - Adrian Mutu, Sebastian Frey and Jovetic to name them all - which means they can't realistically think about challenging for the title, however bouyed they might be by the result over the Reds.

With their focus on creating the Cittadella Viola - a huge project set to include a new stadium, football theme park and new shopping district in the Castello neighbourhood of Florence - the club have other priorities at the moment and would not have been expected to go far anyway. Coach Cesare Prandelli admitted to being "anxious" about the visit of Liverpool before the game, but the other Italian clubs may well be anxious about their prospects of success in the competition too.


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