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The Europa League is a strange thing, eh? Roma's defensive solidarity and 4-month unbeaten streak came to a halt in Athens, and in Amsterdam we won...and Amauri scored, twice. I feel like we've entered the Twilight Zone, although somethings don't change- Del Piero remains a champion, and Zebina returns to his godawful self. Full review after the jump.

First, some thoughts on Uefa. I don't like to call conspiracy, and I'm not here, but in the last few years, referee decisions have really hampered Serie A clubs. You could talk about Materazzi's undeserved red card in the crucial Liverpool game a few years ago. Last year, Fiorentina was horribly screwed in the group stages (suspension to Gilardino, among other things) and just when Juventus looked like we were going to defeat Chelsea, the ref sent Chiellini off for an offense that even English commentators couldn't understand.

This year, Milan were denied some crucial calls against Manchester United (Ferdinand taking down Dinho with no-call) and in the group stages, Fiorentina striker Gilardino received a ridiculous red card for a non-intentional, non-contacting elbow against Lyon's Toulalan. I won't rehash the Fiorentina-Bayern game, because everyone knows about it. For Juventus, Maccabi beat us up and it took three horror tackles for one of them finally to get sent off. I won't cry about us missing the knockouts because we all know we didn't deserve to get there, but Bordeaux's 75th minute equalizer in Turin was offside...with 3 points there, we would have gone through.

It's not the bad calls that annoy me, it's the inconsistency. If referees were giving bad calls to all teams, that's one thing, but poor calls seem to have disproportionately harmed Serie A teams. Two clear examples- Yesterday, somehow Gobbi was sent off for a maybe-yellow-cardable offense, whereas Klose's two-foot studs up tackle produced nothing. Today, we saw the double standard as well, though thankfully it was late enough in the game that it didn't affect the result- Salihamidzic was sent off for a high challenge, one VERY similar to the one Suarez attempted in the 62nd minute, where he only received a yellow card.

SOCCER-EUROPA
Not everybody was kung-fu fighting, according to the referee.

UEFA referees need to get better, and fast. Recently, Juventus have received two non-penalties against Lazio and Genoa, respectively, and Serie A referees need to improve as well. (Making them professional is step #1) With all due respect to Serie A, though, knockout games like Bayern-Fiorentina are a lot more delicate than league games. Genoa may feel hard done from poor refereeing, but there's a lot of points left to play for. In the knockout stages, though, these small incidents can make a team progress, or be knocked out. Other than sporting achievements, there's some serious financial implications here too- Genoa and Juventus money situation doesn't change from one Serie A game, advancing to the quarter-finals can entail at least 5million euros in money.

But enough about the piss-poor referees! Onto the piss poor players! (and some good ones):

SOCCER-EUROPA/
"Surely we did concede a few opportunities because they are a team of great value and we played in a very warm stadium and so it unavoidable to concede certain opportunities. The goal conceded was one which we have been suffering quite a few of recently. We did not commit a tactical foul and I found him right in front of me and couldn’t do anything. If I had at least 5 centimetres more I would have managed to save it."

LE PAGELLE:

Buffon: 6- Looked a bit shaky at times and perhaps has not fully recovered psychologically from his error against Genoa, but at the end when we were under fire, he looked unbeatable.

Zebina: 4.5- After a very solid game against Genoa, he blew this one hard. He's a pretty pacey guy, unlike Legrottaglie, but he was beaten to ball after ball, and on Ajax's goal, it just seemed like he jogged and watched the guy blow by. No effort whatsoever to stop him.
Legrottaglie: 5.5- A good challenge in the box that saw an Ajax player wrongly get a yellow card for simulation, but Ajax's pace troubled him. Seemed indecisive at times. That said, pace isn't a crucial thing for a CB to have, it's a bonus, but, for example, Cannavaro even at his height was never particularly fast. The midfield needs to help out on counter-attacks more.
Chiellini: 7- With his speed, he had no trouble keeping up and closed Ajax's attack down well. Had a good change to score down at the other end, too, Giorgio was typically beastly.

Legrottaglie: «This is for us an injection of faith»

One of the best players on the field at the Amsterdam Arena was without any doubt Nicola Legrottaglie who played with eligance and efficiency. (Really, Mr. Juventus.com editor?)

«It was quite some time since we did not win two consecutive matches and we did so in a great stadium against a great team and this is for us an injection of faith and we hope we will continue like this as from Bologna on Sunday».

The only black dot is the yellow card received: «The yellow card was my fault because I told the referee a bit too vociferly that it was the second foul the player had committed».

What has changed? : «We are trying to get used to the formations tried out by the coach during the week and we are seeing the first results».

Ajax however played a good match: «They have a number of very talented and promising players but it is easier to play in the Dutch championship rather then on European level or in the Italian championship».

Some may argue that the Europa League is nothing like the champions League and yet it has its value: «The Europa League is a very respectible competition and progressing in this competition for us would be very important and satisfying».

Three matches a week is no joke and fatigue may have the upper hand: «Playing 3 matches a week is not easy but i am sure the coach will deal with this well. After all we are convinced that the more you play and the more you win you do not feel tired and the more you want to play. If we manage to register a third consecutive victory on Sunday nobody will say we’re tired».

Marchisio: 5.5- We've all seen how Marchisio's effectiveness is limited playing as a winger. Playing as a wingback, even worse. His game was limited to containing Ajax, and he really never broke out of his defensive role. Moved to center-midfield a bit later when the formation changed, and improved a bit.
Felipe Melo: 5.5- Improved as the game went on, but Melo and Sissoko had a duel to see who's distribution was worse. I can't pick a winner (or loser, depending on how you see it) but Melo seemed slow to pick out a target and confused players a few times, playing it against their run, etc. Shame Marchisio didn't play in his stead.
Sissoko: 5.5- Melo's passing was mediocre, Sissoko's was equally bad and they got into each others way a few times, clearly, their roles were not defined well enough by Zaccheroni. He had a few good plays, and then would ruin it by some boneheaded ones immediately after.
De Ceglie: 6.5- The best of the midfielders. PDC has been fairly inconsistent lately, a good performance two weeks ago negated by a mediocre one against Genoa, but I argue his inconsistency is due to his inconsistency in playing. Give him a run out, and he'll solidify his game more. He offers a hell of a lot more than Grosso, given his pace, grit, and offensive talent. Perfect cross to Amauri for the first goal.

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"I thank the coach for the kind words he said to me after the match. I also want to thank my team-mates for their marvelous display of football they put on this evening. I may be 35-and-a-half years old, but I do not feel that old. I feel good, and want to continue to play for as long as possible." Grande Capitano!!

Diego: 5.5- I've defended Diego in past weeks, saying he can't do it all on his own, and I agree. Now that Amauri and Del Piero have awaken from their slumber, one would expect Diego to have a bit more freedom, and attack a bit more. I think it's natural, not intended, that Diego drifts far too far from the goal. He's not playing as a trequartista, he's playing more of a roaming regista, but he's more effective up closer to goal, and he played a fairly inconsistent game.

Del Piero: 7- This guy leads with his heart. In a tough environment with fouls all over the place, ADP not only held his own but produced brilliantly. He found a weakness on Ajax's right-flank and exploited it all game. Brilliant move to free De Ceglie to cross, he found space where there was none. Then provided a perfect assist to Amauri for his doppietta. I wondered if he'd be ready physically for this game, we saw last year that his performances dropped when required to play twice a week often, though maybe the stage, our inaugural Europa League game, in Amsterdam, against Ajax, was all the motivation he needed.
Amauri: 7.5- Vintage Amauri goals, unstoppable in the air. Amauri also made a few decent runs and looked a lot more active up front, but there still is kind of a lack of understanding with some of the other players. To be a great striker, Amauri needs to be more consistent (obviously) but also develop the ability to score with his feet. He can hold the ball up well, he can score with his head, but the aforementioned quality is missing.

Netherlands Europa League Soccer
"I am happy and satisfied. I really needed these goals, I couldn’t wait. I thank God and hope to continue like this...[regarding his substitution] I had the same problem on Sunday, a slight pain to the sciatica nerve. Nothing serious though. The problem is that playing two consecutive matches within a few days and without resting leaves its effect immediately."

Zaccheroni: 6.5- I didn't like the lineup, and I still don't, but as I'll discuss later, I like what AZ is doing.
Grygera: 6- Came in for Zebina against his old club, and put in a typical Grygera performance- defensively solid, though never really contributed offensively. (Given that he was playing in a 3-man backline, that is totally acceptable)
Salihamidzic: 5.5- Determined as ever and chased down plenty of opponents to help and try close out the game...but oops.

Netherlands Europa League Soccer

Things I Think I Think:
#1- Is Amauri Back? Not yet. This question came up a bit in October. Amauri has gone through waves of form, he started out the season in red-hot form, and was incredibly unlucky not to score against Chievo, Genoa, and Lazio. Then, it seemed frustration set in, and he played shitty until one week in October, when he scored against Fiorentina, Siena, and two against Sampdoria. Then, he took a 4 month hiatus. So, you'll forgive me if I'm not too excited about his goals- it's good to see him back, and playing hungry, but he needs to score consistently like Trezeguet, not hammer 4 in and take a vacation.
#2- Zaccheroni is making good changes: I groaned a bit when I saw the starting lineup. Melo-Sissoko in midfield? Marchisio on the wing? Zebina still in defense? We started out mediocre, but we improved. There were moments when we were actually passing the ball around and playing like a team. Hooking Zebina at the half was a very smart decision, and perhaps Zaccheroni has figured out how to regenerate Amauri. Here's his post-game thoughts:

Zaccheroni: «An important victory at an important moment»

At the end of the match at Amsterdam Arena a satisfied Zaccheroni commented the match played by his players: «We knew we had to suffer. It is true that Ajax lacks a bit of personality on an individual level but on a collective level they play well, a very airy game, never lose the ball, participate collectively in the action and if you are not in the right condition it is complicated to get the upper hand».

Zaccheroni was right when he spoke of the team before the match: «I said we would suffer and we would have to strike at the right moment and so it was. We registered an important victory at an important moment» .

Finally a comment on Amauri: «He knows how to play football. I repeat what I said before he got back to scoring: with him you are never a player less. He is a player who plays both with his back to goal and facing it and does so very well. Today we looked for him in the position he is supposed to be and the result can be seen».

#3- The Return Leg in Turin: It looks good. 2-1 advantage in Amsterdam, with Suarez suspended for the 2nd leg. Let's hope some of the kids get to play, oh say...Sebastian Giovinco. I'm not saying throw in the Primavera, and given the last two matchdays of the Champion's League, we can't count the result done, but if we screw it up, it'll only be our faults.
#4- NBC SUCKS: I'm not a big fan of the Summer Olympics, but damn, I love the Winter Olympics, the only thing I don't care to watch is figure skating. (Which is still very impressive) For all you Yanks out there, I think you'll agree NBC's coverage has been dreadful. There have been several events that have been shelved from TV to be used in highlights. And when the reporters talk, it's just patronizing stupid bullshit that comes out of their mouth. Case in point:

Today's win was perhaps a bit undeserved, but a huge morale boost nonetheless. SEMPRE JUVE!!