Coppa glory up for grabs





The Coppa Italia should be an excellent advert for Italian football, as any of the four remaining teams lifting the trophy would count as an upset. Juventus had dominated the last four editions, with Napoli the last to prise the cup out of their hands in 2014 in a 3-1 Final victory over Fiorentina.

Of the current semi-finalists, the last to lift the Coppa Italia was Lazio in 2013, with Senad Lulic scoring the only goal in a very special Derby della Capitale. Milan haven’t won it since 2003, with Fiorentina going back to pre-bankruptcy days in 2001. Atalanta’s one and only piece of silverware is the 1963 edition of the Coppa, beating Torino 3-1 in the Final.

From a monumental thrashing, to a dramatic penalty shoot, the slaying of the favourites, to the rise of a giant, the Coppa Italia quarter-finals had it all. The semi-finals will now feature some of the most trophy-hungry teams in Serie A and they are also some of the most attractive to watch. Atalanta, Fiorentina, Milan and Lazio will face off, each thinking that they have a genuine chance to lift the trophy. That is exactly why this competition is now so enthralling.

Fiorentina will certainly not forget their quarter-final tie with Roma, just as the Giallorossi will never want to think about it again. Federico Chiesa’s hat-trick was mesmerising, his display crowned off a wonderful night for the Viola. Giovanni Simeone and Luis Muriel were also in electric form as Stefano Pioli’s bright young things pulled off a near perfect display.

Since that night at the Franchi, the team have drawn with Udinese and Napoli, beaten SPAL and this weekend they drew with Inter in dramatic if not somewhat fortuitous style. Now they will have to face Atalanta, once again at home in the first leg of the semi-final, a fixture that they won 2-0 back in September. This promises to be one of the most entertaining double-headers in recent years.

Perhaps the reason many have such high hopes for this semi-final is how brilliantly ruthless and attractive Atalanta are under Gian Piero Gasperini. In their quarter-final, they crushed a strong Juventus team who have been so dominant in Serie A, winning 3-0. Whilst the possession was even, it was Atalanta who were more efficient, thanks mostly to their in-form striker Duvan Zapata, who netted twice.

The Bergamo boys will be looking forward to the second leg in front of their intimidating home fans, especially as Juventus are not the first team to fall here. Inter were put to the sword and they came back from 3-0 down to draw against Roma. They will be slightly concerned that they have lost their last two, however, firstly to Milan and then this weekend at Torino.

As luck would have it, the two teams will meet again in Serie A on Sunday at the Stadio Azzurri d’Italia. This gives Atalanta a better chance of breaking their extraordinary negative streak against Fiorentina, failing to beat them home and away in all competition since a 2-0 Serie A home result in April 2012. They picked up just four draws in their last 14 encounters and it’ll be a long wait for the second leg of the semi-final on April 24.

Milan have looked ferocious since the arrival of Krzysztof Piatek, as their Polish striker has netted seven times in six games in all competition for his new team and, along with Lucas Paqueta, Gennaro Gattuso’s tactical jigsaw finally seems complete. The quarter-final against Napoli showed just how efficient Milan have become since the turn of the year, as they scored twice from six shots. The Partenopei, on the other hand, struggled to break down Milan and were reduced to efforts from distance, 22 in all, with only six finding the target. Gattuso won’t care about that, or the lack of possession they had, as all that will matter to him is that he will be focused on bringing a trophy to the club he collected so many with as a player.

Another team who are craving a trophy are Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio and they will be thinking they have a good chance of beating the Rossoneri at San Siro, especially as they dispatched Inter in the same ground in the quarters. This was decided on penalties after a tense and dramatic period of extra time. Ciro Immobile had put Lazio into the lead on the 105th minute before Mauro Icardi dispatched a penalty with the last kick of the game. The Aquile prevailed and must be seen as a serious bet to lift this trophy, especially if Sergej Milinkovic-Savic can get back to his old self.

Inzaghi will have some concerns as recent form has been poor. Being the last Italian standing in three tournaments took its toll on a squad that was never exactly brimming with quality alternatives. The double defeats to Sevilla in the Europa League and in Serie A with Genoa knocked their confidence. They have been able to rest over the weekend, as their game against Udinese was postponed, but it has done little to calm the injury crisis. The fact this semi-final comes days before the all-important Rome Derby just makes Inzaghi’s task even tougher.

It’s going to come down to priorities and here is where Fiorentina stand out. While Milan and Lazio battle for a top four finish, Atalanta are in the strongest position to get a Europa League spot. The Viola have fallen further behind in Serie A and have the greatest reason of all to focus on the Coppa Italia. “We dream of winning the trophy so we can dedicate it to Davide Astori.”



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