It's an issue that divides many fans of Italian soccer: In the Champions League, do you throw your support behind Italian sides playing in the competition? Or do you cheer on their competition, laughing when they make mistakes or have crucial calls go the other way?
There's an argument made by some calcio fans that you should support all Italy teams, no matter what, no matter how great the rivalry is in the league. It's for the coefficient, some say. Italy has lost its fourth Champions League slot, and the only way to get it back is to have its teams progress in European tournaments. Others tell you it's a matter of pride in Italian soccer, that we need the rest of the world to watch calcio and admire the style of play, the finesse, the skills of those playing on the peninsula.
Sorry, but there's no other word for it. Italy don't need that fourth spot. What happens when weak teams -- or teams that sell off their squad to the big names -- fill the final Champions League slot? Udinese goes out in the playoff round. Sampdoria get relegated. Chievo Verona get into the competition.
As for pride in Italy's play, do we really want to hold up Massimiliano Allegri and his mess of a Milan side and say, "yes, this, this is how we do it in Serie A"? AC Milan may have pulled off surprise results in the Champions League this season, but they're still not certain to go through. The tournament aside, though, Milan should simply not be a model shown to the rest of the world.
So why cheer on Juventus tonight? It's not as though Napoli have a good relationship with the Old Lady. It's almost certain that every single one of the vesuviani faithful snicker when a referee makes a call against Juve, or when a lower-table side takes advantage of the weaknesses that still exist in their backline. It's fun to watch the bianconeri humbled. And what could be more humbling than failing to qualify out of a group that includes Copenhagen and Galatasaray? (ok, it's not the easiest group in the tournament. But six points? Come on, Juventus)
The reason to support the Old Lady on Tuesday night has nothing to do with pride and everything to do with cold, hard cynicism. Juventus are in first. AS Roma are in second and Inter Milan are in fourth, and both of those sides, particularly Inter, have struggled even without the lure of European competition. As Napoli supporters, we want Juve's scudetto run made as difficult as possible. And hey, if you're a fan of Roma, Inter, or Fiorentina, you should want this as well. Even Milan fans, certain as they are that the season will turn around, should cheer on the idea of making the bianconeri title chase more difficult.
Ask yourself this: where will Antonio Conte invest more energy, the Champions League or Europa League? The Europa League final may be in Turin this time around, but Conte knows he can trot out the same squad that beat Bologna on Friday night and most likely breeze through much of the competition. But Juve aren't going to finish top of their group. That means next round they could be facing PSG, or Arsenal, or Bayern Munich. Some of the domestic competition around the dates of the next round? The Turin Derby, against Milan at the San Siro, and hosting Fiorentina.
Seeing Juventus fall at Galatasaray would provide a temporary pleasure, to be sure. But watching Juventus have to divvy up their resources to compete on three fronts in 2014? Well, that's a longer, drawn out sort of happiness. Forza Juventus.
***note: this piece will spontaneously combust should Juventus go on to win the treble.***