MILAN (Reuters) - The league campaign is going badly and the team is already out of Europe — but don’t worry, there is always the Coppa Italia.
Devoid of the giant-killing acts which enliven its counterparts elsewhere, Italy’s domestic cup competition is often looked upon by the country’s top teams as little more than a consolation prize after things have gone badly elsewhere.
When all else has failed, winning the Coppa Italia can “save the season” and open a back door into the Europa League.
The often unloved competition will enjoy a moment in the spotlight over the next week as it reopens the season following the coronavirus stoppage, with the semi-final second legs on Friday and Saturday followed by the final on Wednesday.
Those games will feature four of Italy’s biggest clubs — the two Milan sides, plus Juventus and Napoli. Yet they haven’t had to work very hard to get there.
Each team had to play only two matches, both at home, to reach the last four, thanks to the quirks of a format which seems designed to avoid the giant-killing romance which characterises the English and French Cups.
In the Italian version, the top eight Serie A teams from the previous season do not enter the fray until the round of 16, by which time any minnows have almost certainly been eliminated.
Only 78 teams are allowed to enter in the first place, of which just 38 are from outside the top two divisions, compared to the FA Cup’s total of 735 which includes a myriad of amateur and part-time teams.
When Serie A teams face sides from lower divisions they are automatically drawn at home, further reducing the chances of an upset.
Yet nobody will be complaining if they win the trophy, least of all fallen giants AC Milan whose last major silverware was Serie A in 2011, or Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli whose season fell apart around the turn of the year.
State broadcaster Rai also values it, having agreed to pay 35.5 million euros ($40.3 million) for domestic rights from 2018-2021 - a 60 percent increase on the previous.
“The Coppa Italia, as shown by the excellent ratings of the last editions, is a high quality television product,” said Mario Orfeo, the Rai general director at the time.
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Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis