CHANNEL 4 kicked off its Italian coverage yesterday with what turned out to be the match of the day, Des Walker's Sampdoria drawing 3-3 in a breathless game with a Lazio senza Gazza. C4 was hoping for a big draw.
Ratings will reveal how many viewers switched over at half-time to watch Sky's extra-terrestrial thriller between Leeds United and Manchester United but the temptation to stick with C4's commentating strike-force of Peter Brackley and Luther Blissett, the former Milan forward, must have been strong. Two well-taken own goals, a penalty and three other displays of cool finishing will have pleased C4 mandarins, fearful of Serie A's ability to throw up scoreless bores.
Diego Fuser, who will soon have Paul Gascoigne as company, started the fun in Genoa with an unstoppable own goal, but his team-mate Guiseppe Signori made amends with two quick strikes. Sampdoria came back, Vladimir Jugovic, from a free-kick, and Roberto Mancini, with a second-half penalty, putting the 1991 champions ahead. The match finished with a nice note of symmetry: Lazio had scored the first three goals, Samp the remainder as their Olympic striker, Renato Buso, of all people, put through his own net.
Walker must have felt at home, the match being played at an almost English pace and intensity. Walker and Gascoigne today join David Platt, of Juventus, on a plane to Spain to meet up with the England party. Platt could do with a game: the pounds 6.5m midfielder was not even in Juve's squad for their stalemate at Cagliari, the German Andreas Moller getting the spare overseas shirt. Milan opened the defence of their championship unimpressively, needing an own goal to beat Foggia 1-0.
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