Phalanx Prophecy: Serie A Banishes, And Now Punishes, Blasphemy

Hold your tongue on camera, Serie A players.
Serie A now has a zero-tolerance policy towards blasphemy.

No, that's not some cumbersome translation. Actual blasphemy, the one you learned about in Sunday school, is prohibited. "The act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God" (thanks, Merriam-Webster!) will earn you a game in the sin bin, also known as the stands.

What's worse, this isn't more hollow posturing like England's respect campaign. Chievo coach Domenico Di Carlo found out to his chagrin. Last week, three minutes into the second half of the game against Cagliari, Di Carlo apparently said "porco dio," which essentially works out to calling god swine.

For his troubles, he is banned for Sunday's game against Bari.

President Giancarlo Abete made clear that Federcalcio will "intervene with official decisions to make clear that blasphemy is within the definition of 'offensive, insulting or abusive language' in the rules [that warrant sending-off]."

That means that among the deluge of profanity that drips from players' mouths without repercussions every match, when the cameras catch one irreverent comment about a deity, it's an automatic suspension.

The nets Abete and Co. cast aren't foolproof, however. In the same match, camera evidence indicated Chievo player Michele Marcolini said "dio" (god) as he left the pitch following his red card. Somehow a league judge decided that the 34-year-old instead cursed someone named "Diaz," despite no one on the pitch bearing that moniker.

PP would suggest Serie A chose the wrong time to ban irreverence. Two other, better times present themselves:

One, the 1500s. Punishing blasphemy was popular back then.

Two, perhaps some time after the league no longer has to issue fines for racist chants. Seems every other month the league slaps a petty fine on Juventus for cries of "A black Italian does not exist" circling around the Stadio delle Api.

The ways to improve the game are limitless. But let's prioritize here, Italy. How about confronting racism, allowing officials to benefit from technology, ushering in a series of club-owned stadiums, and finding someone -- anyone -- who can challenge Inter for the title? Accomplish all those, and then maybe you'll have enough free time to idly play moral arbiter.

Last week: 3/4 (75%)
For the season: 33/57 (58%)

Centurion – AC Milan at AS Roma
2:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, March 6
Fox Soccer Channel

With the teams in second and third squaring off, you'd expect the press to hype it up as the match to finally decide which will fight Inter for the title. But you'd think wrong. For the most part, no one seems to have the heart to anoint another "Anti-Inter" or give either side a chance of pushing Inter to the end.

Roma coach Claudio Ranieri told Il Giornale: "Listen to me: the Scudetto is Inter’s to lose."

Milan striker Marco Borriello said, according to Corriere dello Sport: "Will we settle for second spot? Not really."

Not really. Heartening stuff there. Are you beating your breast manically, screaming yourself horse, with adrenaline flushing through your veins yet?

It's a testament to Inter's consistency through the years and in this season that this game isn't making more waves. Sure, Marek Jankulovski and Ignazio Abate offered limp quotes about still being in the race, but it felt more like some poor sap trying unsuccessfully to start a slow clap than any rallying cry.

So, with that tepid introduction, let's get to some team news.

Former Roma winger Mancini won't face his old club. The Brazilian was penciled in to replace Pato (still coming back from injury himself, and Leonardo wants to make sure he's fully fit for the Manchester United clash midweek by resting him here), but suffered a late scratch from the traveling squad. This opens up the possibility of David Beckham or Abate starting on the right side of the attack.

Mathieu Flamini returns from suspension to slot next to Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini in midfield, with Gennaro Gattuso replacing him on the suspension list. (Clarence Seedorf isn't fit and didn't travel.)

Daniele Bonera and Jankulovski look set to man the fullback positions, though Gianluca Zambrotta did make the trip to Rome and could force a surprise.

Ranieri will abandon the makeshift 5-3-2 which dropped two points to Napoli last week. David Pizarro returns to snap back into that devastating two-man tandem he forms in the middle of the pitch with Daniele De Rossi, who will continue as captain with Francesco Totti out injured.

The attack will receive a boost from Luca Toni, who says he's ready to go. With limited training time under his belt, Ranieri may hold off starting him just yet, but even a few minutes of Toni will threaten the Milan backline.

In defense, Nicolas Burdisso could slide over to the right in place of Marco Motta to better man-mark that Ronaldinho fellow everyone is talking about.

Key man: Ronaldinho (Milan). Well, since everybody else is talking about him, PP might as well join in. Official stats list the Brazilian as the proud parent of nine goals and 12 assists this year. That supply number is modest and doesn't tell the full tale.

Last week, against Atalanta, Ronaldinho involved himself in every single Milan goal. For the first, he played the lead ball to Ambrosini, who got the official assist thanks to a nice cross to Pato. On the second, Ronaldinho's succulent chip put Pato through on net. Marco Borriello bundled in the rebound from Dinho's penalty for the third. The stats may list zero assists in that match, but, like usual, he ran everything from his left wing haunts.

Prediction: Draw. Roma looked unbeatable until Panathinaikos knocked it out of Europe. Both clubs, with a little lost sheen, should finish even-stevens.

Optio – Juventus at Fiorentina
Noon EST, Saturday, March 6
Fox Soccer Plus

Serie A makes its debut on the new Fox Soccer Plus this weekend with Juventus traveling to Fiorentina. Of course, if you, like PP, live in an apartment that only offers Comcast, you can't get this game (and are stuck with miserable standard definition for all the others). Sure, rub it in, the rest of you scalawags.

The message coming out of the Juventus camp is to stay calm.

"In Italy there are only two types of judgment for a tactician – all good or all bad," coach Alberto Zaccheroni pouted, according to Captain Alessandro Del Piero also preached moderation to La Stampa, "We are yet to come out of the tunnel, but we have started to get some results."

Indeed, Juve hadn't lost in six until Palermo won 2-0 in Turin last week. Granted, it's made for some pretty eye-gouging viewing lately, but at least Zaccheroni managed to scrape together some results.

The big news for the lineup is that Vincenzo Iaquinta could see pitch time for the first time since Sept. 15. Iaquinta's rival for the Italy poaching job, Alberto Gilardino, could also shake off his most recent knee knock to play. Manuel Vargas, another crucial part of the attack, may only make the bench.

It's an attack that needs all the help it can get; Viola has posted just one win in the past nine in all competitions. If Cesare Prandelli hadn't spent the last seven years building this side from the lower divisions on up, his job would be in serious jeopardy.

Key man: Felipe Melo (Juventus) infuriated his Florentine supporters by joining arch-rivals Juve in the summer. He says he has a special celebration planned if he scores, but it's unlikely he'll get to show it off given his deep midfield role. There, he'll be up against Fiorentina's strongest department. If he's in the same jaded form as the last couple months, that particular tactical clash will be lost.

Prediction: Juventus win. Iaquinta's role in this one could turn it -- he's got the bright, direct sort of play Juve has missed.

Decurion – Genoa at Internazionale
2:30 p.m. EST, Sunday, March 7
Fox Soccer Channel

The reverse fixture finished 0-5 in favor of Inter back in October. With Genoa's sieve defense (four goals conceded last week to Bologna) and Inter incensed that things are going mildly astray, don't count out a similar scoreline.

Jose Mourinho welcomes back a whole slew of players returning from suspension: Walter Samuel, Ivan Cordoba, and Sulley Muntari. The Special One, of course, still has two more matches to serve in his touchline ban, and Esteban Cambiasso will join him on the sidelines for this one to complete his own suspension. The return of Samuel and Cordoba means poor Inter fans won't be subjected to the weeping that results from watching Thiago Motta attempt to play centerback.

Really, the only thing worse in defense than Motta is Genoa. The Griffin has conceded the most goals in Serie A this season aside from bottom-of-the-table Siena. Dario Dainelli missing through injury only makes it worse. Other than his absence, Genoa has essentially the same group as last week.

Key man: Wesley Sneijder (Inter) put in one of the performances of the season against the United States midweek. Pity it was a friendly. More of the same form on the weekend will result in more than the two goals the USA conceded to Sneijder's prodding Wednesday.

Prediction: Inter win. What else is there to say?

Legionary – Napoli at Bologna
9:00 a.m. EST, Sunday, March 7
Fox Soccer Channel

19 matches ago, Walter Mazzarri kicked off his Napoli career against Bologna with a thrilling 2-1 win. Since then, he's seen his side lose exactly one league game. Not too shabby, especially for a guy trying desperately hard to bring the mullet back (Mazzarri and Javier Pastore are in cahoots, according to PP's unrivaled sources).

Bologna can't match that record (which is why Napoli sits two points back from fourth place and Bologna occupies the bottom half of the table), but finds itself in the midst of a more modest upswing in fortunes: only one loss in eight. This form was punctuated most emphatically with a wild 4-3 win over Genoa last week which featured Martins Adailton giving what is calling "one of the most mesmerizing individual displays of the season."

Key man: Martins Adailton (Bologna) will again pose the biggest offensive threat with captain Marco Di Vaio still injured. A similar performance to the one he gave against Genoa and we're looking at Serie A's new cult hero.

Prediction: Draw. Napoli leads the league (tied with Lazio) for most draws this season. Riding a bit of a rough stint (winless in five), points shared will likely prove satisfactory for both sides.

Zac Lee Rigg is an associate editor of Phalanx Prophecy appears, dutifully, every Friday. You should probably read it.

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