When all you want is a happy ending
By Sara De Clara A heartfelt and completely biased opinion on Udinese's recent performances... By an Inter fan
You get a strange mix of feelings walking on the streets of Udine tonight. The stifling italian heat is the perfect complement to a very dense and electric silence. This can only mean one thing in Italy: football.
Champions League football, nonetheless, which the Udinese squad lacked to experience since their first qualification, back in 2005. This game [Udinese's 2nd Leg play-off against Arsenal] is what all newspapers, television programmes and tavern habituès had all been discussing about for the last week. "This is my World Cup final" said the 34-year-old Totò Di Natale, the most prolific striker of the Serie A for the last two years and Udinese captain. And considering Italy's a country where the national team is often being criticised, laughed at (and sometimes even genuinely hated), whereas the faith in one's favourite club could never be put in doubt, this means much more than a World Cup final to the 27,000 Udinese fans at the "Friuli" this evening.
One thing is for sure: the team that played tonight (and even the first leg for that matter) was not the team that gained the Champions League qualification three months ago, as three of the most vital players to Udinese's game were sacrificed to the ruthlessness (and remunerativeness) of the transfer market: Cristiàn Zapata (centre back) signs with Villareal, Gökhan Inler (midfielder) confirms the speculating rumours and goes off to Napoli, and Alexis Sanchez signs dream contract and joins forces with Barcelona superheroes. At this stage Francesco Guidolin is not in an easy position, having to constantly counterbalance the fans' anxiety and anger, the club owner's financial interests, with an obviously weakened squad to train and motivate before him. Guidolin is a man known for his strength and character, and a great advocate for hard work. Also, he's of the insanely meticulous kind and a real 'nightmare' to his players. However, he knows Arsenal is a determined, proud team, which cannot allow itself to fall off the Champions League train, no matter how gloomy the atmosphere may be in London.
The first game at the Emirates Stadium was anything but predictable: sure Walcott's goal was a cold shower to the hopeful hearts of all bianconeri supporters, but the team did not let the false start demoralise them and managed to keep their lucidity and fought for their pride, knowing they could actually draw this game. But Di Natale and Armero wasted a couple of really invaluable goal opportunities, and the team left the stadium swamped with applause, knowing very well how difficult it was now to overturn such a result.
But the performance of Udinese seemed so convincing that hopes were still very high at home, and still many people believed the bianconeri could really make history, being the first italian team to ever beat Arsenal in an international competition. Seven endless days have finally passed by and an entire city is now holding its breath. The captain Di Natale finally scores the first goal of the match, and the city explodes. But after the first 45 minutes it all seemed too easy and too perfect to be real: the bianconeri really gave it all and everyone was looking pretty exhausted. The palpable tension on the pitch and the oppressive heat made an emotional rollercoaster out of the second half: too many missed goals, a couple of spectacular saves by Handanovic, and finally the failed penalty by the captain...at that moment the Udinese supporter had already known in less than an hour the true meaning of elation, despair, depression and everything in between. The coach realised the brand-new Arsenal signing Gervinho could cause some problems in this second portion of the game and tried to stir thiings up in the defensive department, but that didn't seem to significally affect the opponent side's game; and the young Ivorian is the one that will lead Van Persie to score the first of the two goals that will put an end to all Udinese's dreams....Continued at Udinese's play-off against Arsenal