Friday, September 16, 2005

Ah, the beautiful game

Everybody likes the underdog-conquers-all sports story. The 2004 Red Sox finally beating the Yanks. The 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. ice hockey team victory over the Soviets. The Puerto Rico basketball squad that smoked the U.S. in the 2004 summer Olympics by 19. We all want to see the David slay the Goliath, restoring our faith that on any given day we too have a chance to accomplish the unthinkable.

In Italy, this season's David would be Ascoli Calcio 1898 S.p.A. Ascoli is short for Ascoli Piceno, which happens to be the provincial capital for Amandola. In other words, this is my local team. This is the sixth pro soccer season for me in Europe and I finally have a home squad to support. Woohoo! Ascoli was promoted to Serie A, the big leagues, just a few weeks before this season started in dramatic, only-in-Italy fashion. Despite finishing sixth in Serie B, they entered a playoff in June to claim one of three spots to move up to the big time, Serie A football, erm, calcio. Ascoli played poorly and was eliminated immediately from the playoff.

But then the magistrates stepped in.

Torino, the club that one the playoff, was forced to stay in Serie B because they are teetering on bankruptcy. Insolvency also stung Perugia and two other clubs that finished ahead of Ascoli, putting Ascoli in the unlikely position of getting a promotion for finishing sixth. It all came down to Genoa. The Serie B outright victor, Genoa, was denied promotion on account of a botched match-fixing scheme. Police made a dramatic bust, stopping a tinted limo of Genoa club execs from making a dubious money exchange just before a match against Venice. The punishment: Genoa was demoted to Serie C.

Now that you know the back story, how couldn't you cheer on the boys from Ascoli?

So far, they've allowed just one goal in two games, good for two draws (or 2 points for those scoring at home). They did manage one of those draws against the mighty AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi's well-financed squad. Next up is league powerhouse Juventus. Gulp. Is there a magistrate in the crowd?

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