Italy’s Serie A resumes this weekend after six days clouded by grief following the sudden death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori.
Last Sunday’s fixtures were postponed after Astori’s body was found in his hotel room ahead of an away game against Udinese.
That match was immediately called off. The rest of the day’s Serie A programme followed, as Italian football reacted with shock to the news.
On Thursday, thousands of mourners, team-mates and the cream of Italian football gave Astori, a defender who played 14 times for his country an emotional sendoff in Florence.
Fiorentina must take the field again when they entertain Benevento in the early kickoff on Sunday.
Fans have turned the outside of the Artemio Franchi stadium into a memorial to the popular Astori with shirts, scarves and banners, many saying “Ciao Capitano.”
Fiorentina have commissioned special match shirts bearing the same phrase and are planning a ceremony to commemorate the 31-year-old defender. The club, like another of Astori’s former teams Cagliari, have said they will retire his number 13.
Match tickets had already been reduced to one euro for women in celebration of International Women’s Week. Now, the fans will bid farewell to a player deputy captain Milan Badelj, in his funeral tribute, called a man with a capital ‘M’.
– Well-liked figure –
The emotional scenes will eclipse a match that has little hanging on it.
With 12 matches to play, Fiorentina are 10th, nine points behind sixth-placed Sampdoria in the last of the Europa League qualifying spots. Benevento are rooted in last place 13 points, and a large slice of goal difference, away from safety.
The games that will have an impact on the standings occur later on Sunday.
Many Juventus players knew Astori from the Italian national team, and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and defender Giorgio Chiellini were among those who made the trip to the funeral on Thursday after returning from Juventus’ Champions League victory over Tottenham in London.
That completed a busy and successful week which polished Juventus’s reputation as a team that, however badly it struggles, finds a way to win.
On Wednesday, both Chiellini and Buffon were heroic at Wembley as Juventus, outplayed for much of the match, fought back to edge past Spurs and into the last eight.
Last weekend, Juventus played away to Lazio on Saturday, before the Astori tragedy. Paulo Dybala scored in the final seconds to secure a scarcely-deserved 1-0 victory.
“Even when we play less well, this team always does something great because of the character,” Allegri said on Saturday.
Napoli had won nine straight league games in pursuit of a first Serie A title since 1990. Yet they have been unable to shake off Juventus, who have won the last six scudetti.
Perhaps the sight of Juventus again somehow escaping with three points, freaked out Napoli last weekend.
They kicked off just after Dybala’s winner for Juventus, took an early lead and then bombarded the Roma goal only to lose 4-2 at home.
Napoli only leads Juventus, who have a game in hand, by one point and once again, kick off later.
Juventus could move into first place with a victory over Udinese, becalmed in 11th place, in Turin.
Napoli then face a trickier task when they visit Inter Milan in the final game on Sunday. Inter’s star-studded squad have been inconsistent this season but still start the weekend in fifth, one point behind Lazio and a place in the Champions League.
Napoli could have captain Marek Hamsik, the club’s all time leading scorer, back in midfield. Reportedly nursing an injury, he began the Roma game on the bench but is expected to start in Milan.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Roma v Torino (1945)
Verona v Chievo (1945)
Sunday (1400 unless stated)
Fiorentina v Benevento (1130), Bologna v Atalanta, Cagliari Lazio, Crotone v Sampdoria, Juventus v Udinese, Sassuolo v SPAL, Genoa v AC Milan (1700), Inter Milan v Napoli (1945)
– Agence France-Presse