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  • Watch Italian Soccer Now
    Even those who never paid attention to the sport can get something out of it this season - I promise!
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    SEPTEMBER 2, 2007 - Italian soccer has been bruised and battered in recent years. First, doping charges embroiled even Juventus, the most popular Italian squad. Then, a match-fixing scandal had Juventus in Serie B for an entire season, put Milan behind in the Serie A table, and helped Inter to finally win the championship. The leaders of the guilty teams got the boot. Hooligans caused ugly violence in the stadiums. Soccer seemed hopeless.

    Then, the Italian national team won the World Cup last summer and began to redeem the sport. One week into the 2007-08 Serie A club season, Italian soccer is reborn. This latest incarnation is unfamiliar and honest - and that's just one of the reasons why you shouldn't miss it. Here are the others:

    The scandal leveled the playing field. For now, no one is giving watches or cars or elaborate dinners to the refs, which means they're less likely to be playing favorites. Right there, we have an improvement. In addition, having Juventus and Milan humbled last season gave smaller clubs with less money a chance to shine. Some of them are proving to be quite competitive. In fact, as I write this, Juventus is facing Cagliari and having a difficult time. Whenever I turn my head toward the TV screen in this first half, I see Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon deflecting Cagliari's shots on goal.

    Napoli returned to Serie A. Southern teams had fallen on hard times for a while there - and few worse than Napoli. The team had won the scudetto with the help of legendary Diego Maradona. Then, a finance scandal found the beloved underdog in Serie C and B for a number of years. It seemed like the team would never make a comeback. But last year, a strong roster and the will to fight a star-studded Juventus for the top of the Serie B table was more than enough motivation for the Partenopei. Today, the squad is playing Udinese and winning two to nil at the half. Soon, Napoli might be as star studded as the others - and maybe it'll recreate some of the spirit evident in the Maradona years. One can dream, can't she?

    World Cup winners at their finest. Sure, some of the World Cup winners - Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Nesta - have passed their prime on the international level. But some of the younger players on the squad, many of whom were no names before last year's World Cup, are just starting to hit their stride. Think Daniele De Rossi and Vincenzo Iaquinta. Keeping track of their club careers can be as moving and interesting as viewing their participation in international play.

    Dull moments are as rare as ever. The soap opera that is Italian soccer will never end. In the last week, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was out and about bragging that Milan is the strongest, best team in the world. France Coach Raymond Domenech lost his chance to witness the France v. Italy rematch for the European Championship qualifiers next week after accusing the Italians of fixing yet another game with no evidence whatsoever. And Marco Materazzi leaked more information about his World Cup confrontation with Zinedine Zidane in anticipation of a book he's written. And that's all before the players even got on the field to work their magic!

    You never know what's going to happen next. You all know this last one is true, which is why we've all stayed tune to the sport no matter how many times it disappoints us. We know that one of these days, the tide will turn in our favor - and we live for those moments.

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