Udinese Club Focus: The Zebrette versus the Europa League
Wait, there’s more!
Q: What black and white and can only hit goal posts? A: A choking zebra.
Q: How do you kill a zebra? A: Just put them on a field with a non-Italian soccer team.
Q: What does a zebra like to do while on summer holiday? A: Go fishing… for the ball out of their net.
While the above may seem harsh, even cruel–not to mention really, really awfully constructed—the same could be said about the false hopes Udinese’s bestows unto their fans every European competition.
About a week or so ago, Udinese once again made an abrupt exit out of the Europa League, failing to qualify for the group stage of the tournament.
In other words, it was over even before it began.
Udinese, who finished in fifth last year in Serie A, did not win either of their qualifying games against the Czech side Liberec. After losing their first match to Liberec in Udin, the Zebrette drew 1-1 in the return match in the Czech Republic.
The play-off round choke by Udinese was unfortunate, especially because they did so well in the third qualifying round, beating the Bosnian-Herzegovinian team Siroki Brijeg 3-1 and 4-0 at the beginning of August.
Unfortunately, that earlier sweep is only further proof that Udinese aren’t ultimately bad; they just are when it comes to things that count. For example, the squad silenced their critics when they played their second Serie A game against Parma, beating I Crociati 3-1, the same scoreline they suffered to Liberec during the first match of the playoff round.
Parma, it should be noted, has won the Super Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and the UEFA Cup… twice! Oh sure, Parma may not be the same team as it was in the 1990s/2000s, but they at least have some silverware in their cabinet while Udinese has naught.
Many question – and curse – why Udinese seem to do so poorly, nay, so appalling when it comes to Europa; they are almost completely unrecognizable from the squad that is fielded during Serie A matches. The Zebrette perform (for the most part) first rate in Italy, beating rival top Italians teams seemingly with ease. Last season alone, they earned three points against Roma, Inter, Lazio, and held off Napoli to a 0 – 0 draw.
So what makes Europa their Achilles’ heel? Why can’t Udinese win a trophy that they, on paper, can very conceivably earn? Why do the soccer gods so openly mock the Friulani?
Unfortunately none of the above have easy answers.
Udinese have European-play experienced players, a good mix of youth and veterans, and a home position in Italy that makes for easy travel between in-land away countries. Heck! They even have a coach who has Europa (as the then-UEFA Cup) experience, success, and titles!
There is ultimately no good reason behind their performances, so what is a depressed—yet stupidly, stupidly, devoted—little zebra to do?
First, put down your grappa and take a deep breath: the early exit out of Europe is actually a blessing in disguise.
Udinese now have time to focus on the domestic league; with their main competition focusing on European titles and Scudetto campaigns, the Zebrette can set their sights on the elusive Coppa Italia.
Winning the Italian cup is a much needed title to replace their current one of “Chokiest Team in Europe.” It would also silence the nay-sayers (“poachers” or “dream killers” as they are so often called) who often attribute Udinese recent club standing success to dumb luck.
To make a short story, long (and to quote one feverous Friulano): yes, Udinese can be a disappointment.
Yes, Udinese should apologize to the rest of the Italian teams for wasting—yet again—another potential European spot.
And, yes, Udinese are inconsistent, unreliable, and self-damaging. To the max.
But it is their fiery failures which call for welcomed winnings. The answer to why Udinese fail in the Europa League may remain a mystery for now; but the season has just begun and there’s plenty of time to see if zebras can beat old ladies, snakes, wolves, and a variety of donkeys.
Of course, winning the Coppa would also put them back in a Europa spot next season. Those poor, damned, Little Zebras.