We live in 2010. Why is HD taking so long for Serie A broadcasts? Zac Lee Rigg moans a bit before previewing the weekend's upcoming matches.
For fans of Serie A in America right now, the highest profile issue lies not in the league itself but the way it's broadcast.
Currently, Fox Soccer Channel carries all Serie A games. (The odd Coppa Italia match airs on Gol TV.) A couple weeks ago, Fox began promoting a (long overdue) shift from standard to high definition, including the addition of a new channel, Fox Soccer Plus.
Despite the transition to an HD broadcast (feeds feature the tempting/mocking "HD Live" in the top right corner), cable and satellite providers aren't as quick to follow suit. Dish Network currently carries FSC in HD, but all the other major American providers (including Comcast and DIRECTV) continue to hold out.
For the majority of fans, that means watching fuzzy blotches of colors fizzle across a screen capable of so much more, as the HD symbol in the corner taunts their sensibilities. Matches in standard def simply don't cut it anymore. Once studios invented “talkies,” silent films died off quickly, for good reason.
With Fox also announcing the absorbing of Setanta's regularly scheduled programming, American fans have a lot to look forward to. Unfortunately, the promises and the actuality when turning on the television at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, bleary eyed, to watch the early Serie A match are quite disparate.
It's 2010, dammit. We ride around on Segways and our video game controllers don't even have to plug into the console anymore. HD should be universal by now.
Why does standard def exist again?
Cesar – Internazionale @ Napoli
11:30 a.m. EST, Sunday, Feb. 14
Fox Soccer Channel
Call it the battle of the conspiracy theorists.
Jose Mourinho, ever the martyr, returns to his frequent harping point of biased refereeing whenever his Inter side runs into difficulty in Italy. Most recently, after winning the derby over Milan, the Special One suggested that he would soon depart from the peninsula and leave others to clean up the dirty underbelly of the Italian game which led to several questionable calls in the match.
Napoli's first loss under Walter Mazzarri included so many blatantly incorrect calls that senator Antonio Gentile suggested the club withdraw from the Serie A in protest. "This football is in mafia hands," Gentile told Tuttonapoli.net. Napoli fans will wear Pierluigi Collina masks in this match as protest.
In the disturbing wake of Calciopoli, referees in Italy simply have no room for a bad game. If you happen to see the fellow assigned to referee this one, give the poor sap a hug. He needs all the encouragement you can muster.
However, several other players will play a part in this match, besides the referee (despite what Mourinho tells you after the match). Some of them include the very best Italy can offer. Two specific battles rise to the fore out of a series of rather zesty individual clashes.
Firstly, the goalkeepers will matter heavily. Julio Cesar stakes a claim for the best net-minder in Italy every single week, and even took time out of his midweek dictator lessons to stunt Parma's attack a fair few times. Between the other set of sticks, Morgan De Sanctis came within three minutes of breaking Dino Zoff's league record for not conceding. Neither side will come away from this one with a simple chance converted.
Secondly, the two teams see marquee contributors return. Ezequiel Lavezzi signed a new contract while out injured and needs to prove he is worth the big bucks. Two goals in the last two games against Inter mean the Argentine knows what to do in this game. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder returns from suspension (finally!) to take part.
Key man: Wesley Sneijder (Inter) has yet to taste defeat with Inter in the league. The playmaker fulfills an irreplaceable creative role for the Nerazzurri. Also, any free kick within 40 yards of the goal becomes a distinct goal-scoring opportunity.
Prediction: Inter win. What? I lack the testicular fortitude to bet against Inter in the league. Sue me.
Centurion – Palermo @ Roma
9:00 a.m. EST, Saturday, Feb. 13
Fox Soccer Channel
Even Fabio Capello is looking forward to this match. No surprises there, two surging clubs in the table face off in what should be a rather tasty encounter. Set your DVRs early.
In a battle between pink and red, it call comes down to whether you like your steaks extra rare or medium rare. Roma's red last faced defeat in October of 2009. Delio Rossi apparently plays Weezer's album Pinkerton to pump up his charge before matches, and has only tasted defeat twice since taking over at Palermo because of it.
Even on the injury front, these clubs have very little between them. Palermo will replace the suspended Antonio Nocerino with the back-from-suspension Fabio Liverani. Luca Toni's continued absence up front will likely see Francesco Totti deployed as the lone striker, with Marco Vucinic off to the left.
Key man: Javier Pastore (Palermo) may as well change his name to Muhammad Ali. He floats like a butterfly with the ball at his feet before letting his passes sting like a bee. Not even Roma target Fabio Simplicio can orchestrate a midfield as well as the 20-year-old Argentine.
Prediction: Roma win. Five victories on the trot, despite some subpar play, show that this Roman side knows how to grind out three points. Palermo struggled against Parma last week, so Claudio Ranieri will have seen how to deploy his squad.
Optio – Genoa @ Juventus
2:00 p.m., EST Sunday, Feb. 14
Fox Soccer Channel
Alberto Zaccheroni continues to tinker with his lineup, with only a pair of 1-1 draws to his name as Juve boss. Look for the 3-4-1-2 to continue but with minor tweaking this week. World Cup winners Fabio Grosso and Fabio Cannavaro will likely see bench time thanks to poor form and shape, with less experienced options taking their places. In the midfield Felipe Melo's suspension likely helps the squad more than it hinders, especially with the dynamic Momo Sissoko raring to start again.
Another club featuring three defenders and also mired in a poor patch of its own, Genoa can't seem to find any consistency in 2010. The erratic form is a plausible byproduct of some key changes in personnel during the transfer window. Though capable of some searing play, the club has yet to truly click this year.
Key man: Mohamed Sissoko (Juventus), when he has emerged from his several bouts with injury this season, is Juve's most consistent midfielder. A physical freak of nature, the former Liverpool player eclipses all other options available to Zaccheroni, and can easily overrun the aging central midfield pair Genoa deploys.
Prediction: Draw. Another 1-1 result? I certainly wouldn't count it out.
Decurion – Udinese @ AC Milan
11:30 a.m. EST, Friday, Feb. 12
Fox Soccer Channel
One can never tell if Jose Mourinho is actually complaining about a legitimate issue or simply venting steam to deflect attention from the rare occasions on which his squad under-performs. Apparently, all the times he moaned about fixture congestion, he had a point. To help alleviate the proximity of clashes, the Serie A started scheduling league games on Fridays to give enough time for clubs competing in the Champions League on Tuesdays to recover.
The first club to benefit, ironically, is Inter's city rival Milan. With a tie as tasty as cheese fries with gravy coming up on Tuesday against Manchester United, the match against Udinese will take place Friday. (Raise your hand if you are super pumped about the Champions League's return. OK, hands down. Now don't you feel a little silly raising your hand alone in the middle of your room?) (For the record, I too raised my hand, and yes, I happen to feel a tad silly.)
Both clubs come into this one with an odd turn of form. Relegation strugglers Udinese beat Napoli last week, coach Walter Nazzarri's first loss with the club. The team really had nothing to boast about before that win, aside from captain Antonio Di Natale's 16 goals this season (out of 26 goals scored total by entire squad). Milan ride a four game winless streak in a difficult patch for Leonardo.
However, Alexandre Pato and Alessandro Nesta are finally training, likely to make at least some appearance in this game. That should be enough to inspire Milan to a return to winning ways.
Key man: Alessandro Nesta (Milan) ranks as high as any currently active centerback when playing. Even straight back from injury, he doesn't miss a beat in organizing his defense and making crucial challenges. Based on his form this season, any team in the world could make room for him in their lineups.
Prediction: Milan win. Again, this time Nesta is actually supposed to return to the starting lineup, and Milan has lost only one game this term with him and defensive partner Thiago Silva both starting.
Legionary – Fiorentina @ Sampdoria
8:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, Feb. 13
Fox Soccer Channel
Over a month has elapsed since Fiorentina tasted victory in the league. This, the team which clinched a Champions League slot the last two years. The team boasting the coach most tip as ready for the Italy national team position after Marcello Lippi retires after the World Cup this summer. Now even the top half of the table would represent an improvement.
Antonio Cassano hasn't featured for Sampdoria since his mooted move to Sampdoria this winter, and continues to miss out through injury (and perhaps a slight bout of coach-player-disagreement-knack). Nevertheless, Samp can boast nine points in the last three games, with Nicola Pozzi showing a goal-scoring touch in Cassano's absence.
Key man: Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria) scores goals, and he scores heaps of goals. With 11 on the season, the former Viola striker is tied for third overall in Serie A. Cesare Prandelli let the talented frontman go despite a rather potent partnership he forged with Adrian Mutu, as he made room for Alberto Gilardino (nine goals in Serie A). Is revenge on the cards?
Prediction: Draw. Neither team looks particularly solid of late, despite Samp's positive form.
Zac Lee Rigg is an associate editor of Goal.com. Phalanx Prophecy appears, dutifully, every Friday. You should probably read it.
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