Q. Why Do Scots Sides Struggle to Win in Italy? A. Possibly Because They Are Better. but Refs Might Have Taken a Few Quid along the Way, Too

Daily Mail (London), December 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

Q. Why Do Scots Sides Struggle to Win in Italy? A. Possibly Because They Are Better. but Refs Might Have Taken a Few Quid along the Way, Too


Byline: by JOHN GREECHAN

TALENTED players, tactics suffused with negativity -- and a proven history of offering referees the odd, ahem, gift in exchange for favourable considerations. In the land of Berlusconi, do they call that a bunga?

Whatever catchy title you hang on the various refereeing scandals to have afflicted Italian football, Neil Lennon believes it has played a part in the regular downfall of Scottish visiting teams.

'It's possibly because they're better than us,' said Celtic boss Lennon. 'But referees might have taken a few quid along the way, as well.'

Pausing to let his statement sink in, he added: 'That's been proven, hasn't it?'

Yes, it has. Ask Dundee United fans who now know that French ref Michael Vautrot was given [pounds sterling]50,000 by Roma ahead of their European Cup semi-final second leg in the Italian capital back in 1984.

That was just one defeat in a long litany of poor results for Scottish teams visiting Italy, with only Rangers -- under the unlikely guidance of Paul le Guen -- having scored an away win, making that little piece of history by beating Livorno in the 2006-07 UEFA Cup.

Celtic, with six defeats and two draws from eight away days against Italian teams, now have to beat Udinese away in order to reach the last 32 of the Europa League.

Lennon wouldn't suggest that dodgy dealings will play any part in his team's December 15 visit to the Stadio Friuli. No more than he would accuse a certain German ref of having been suspect on his most memorable -- and painful -- visit to Italy as a player.

The scars from the night of September 18, 2001 still haven't quite healed for Lennon, who can still recall the 'shocking decision' by Helmut Krug that consigned Celtic to a 3-2 defeat in the Stadio delle Alpi.

Krug's awarding of a late penalty to Juventus, won and converted by Nicola Amoruso, clearly hasn't been forgotten by the man who patrolled the Celtic midfield that night.

Lennon said: 'It was a shocking decision. It was never a penalty and it cost us qualification in the end. We ended up with nine points, so if we'd got a point in Turin we would have gone through.

'That's the one decision which will always stick out for me in terms of dodgy decisions. It was a pretty poor call right at the end of a game when we had played brilliantly in the second half and clawed our way back into the game.

'But we found something that night, a bit of belief. That's what my players will need when they go to Udine.

'When we lost 2-0 to Atletico in Madrid at the start of this group, I felt they lacked a wee bit of belief in themselves. That's understandable, because for a lot of them it was the first time playing in Europe.

'As the campaign has gone on, they have grown more and more confident.'

They'll need all of that belief and then some in order to break down a Udinese team who only need a draw in order to progress. Everything we know about Italian football suggests they might be drummed out of Serie A if they can't manage at least a stuffy stalemate on the night. …

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