Juventus
    17.12.2014 17:57 - in: Serie A S

    Rossoblu in the spotlight

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    Founded in 1920, Sardinian side Cagliari play their matches at the recently-renovated Stadio Sant’Elia and are currently managed by experienced Czech boss Zdenek Zeman

    Club

    The first noteworthy football matches played in Sardinia were between English workers there to build a railway, so it was only natural that Cagliari - a port through which a large number of English sailors passed - grew to become the centre of the sport on the island.

    And so Cagliari Football Club was founded in 1920 by surgeon Gaetano Fichera. They won their first game 5-2 against Torres, mainly thanks to a hat-trick from Alberto Figari.

    After pulling on the red and blue kit for the first time in 1926 (previously they wore black and blue stripes), the team were strong enough to take part in Serie C by 1937.

    They entered Serie A for the first time in 1964, making a poor start to the season but turned things around in the second half, beating Milan and Juventus on the way to a sixth-place finish.

    In the summer of 1967, Cagliari upped sticks to America to compete in a new league called the United Soccer Association, renaming themselves the Chicago Mustangs for the adventure. Their top scorer was Roberto Boninsegna, later a Juventus player, as they finished joint-second during their solitary tenure on North American shores.

    After pushing Fiorentina all the way a season earlier, the club’s biggest domestic achievement to date came in 1970, the year the Rossoblu won the Scudetto. The triumph was inspired by Gigi Riva, the Italian national team’s all-time top scorer (his number 11 jersey has since been retired by the club in his honour).

    After a relatively dark period in the lower leagues, they bounced back to almost pull off a coup in Europe, going out at the hands of Inter in the semi-final of the 1993/94 UEFA Cup just half a decade after promotion from Serie B.

    Following four years in the second flight, the 2003/04 season saw former Chelsea legend and local hero Gianfranco Zola return to his boyhood club to star in a promotion-winning campaign.

    The Rossoblu have remained in Italy’s premier division ever since but have failed to set any season alight. They finished in 15th position last time out, seven points above the dreaded drop zone.

    Stadium

    Cagliari play their home games at the Stadio Sant’Elia, right by the sea in the port.

    The team inaugurated the new stadium in 1970 as reigning champions of Italy, having won the Scudetto a year earlier at the old Stadio Amsicora.  

    It was also used for athletics events until 2002, after which it has exclusively hosted football.

    Cagliari were forced to leave the ground for 18 months starting from the beginning of last season due to issues with the local administration, instead going to play their home games in the Stadio Is Arenas and the Stadio Nereo Rocco in Trieste.

    They crowned their long-awaited return to the stadium during October last year by beating Catania 2-1.

    Transfer Activity

    It was not the most dramatic summer transfer market for the Rossoblu, but they have brought in some interesting prospects.

    Former Italy under-21 international Simone Colombi has arrived from Serie A rivals Atalanta after many years out on loan at a whole host of clubs including Alessandria, Juve Stabia and Carpi. The 23-year-old has a bright future ahead of him and made his debut for the club during a 1-1 opening day draw with Sassuolo.

    At the ripe age of 28, right-back Antonio Balzano has finally made the step up to Serie A after previously plying his trade in the lower ebbs of Italian football. A versatile individual, he is able to also play on the left side of a back four as well as a winger. He joins up with former manager Zdenek Zeman after the duo had previously worked together whilst at Pescara.  

    After initially signing for  Parma in July, defender Luca Ceppitelli was sold a mere month later to Cagliari without featuring in a competitive game at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. He caught the eye with Bari where he made a centenary of appearances during a three-year spell and frequently stepped in as captain when Marino Defendi was unable to play.

    Up and coming starlet Lorenzo Crisetig has joined from Inter on a season-long loan. Predominately left-footed, the 21-year-old possesses a good understanding of the game and always finds himself in the right place at the right time.

    Diego Farias brings fresh attacking impetus to a side who struggled for goals last season. His dynamic and offensive nature has seen the Brazilian flourish in the second and third tiers of Italian football. Now 24, he’ll be hoping to kick on and establish himself as a household name after scoring three times in his opening 10 appearances.

    Going the other way, Nené has left for Serie A rivals Hellas Verona whilst Mauricio Pinilla has also packed his bags for Genoa. And finally, Marco Silvestri has moved on to pastures new, joining English Championship club Leeds United.

    Current Team

    A truly integral part of the team is captain Daniele Conti, who - apart from a fleeting five appearances for Roma in his early days as a professional - has spent his entire career at the club and is now top of the all-time appearances list. A defensive midfielder, he is known as somewhat of a set-piece specialist.

    Twenty-one-year-old Nicola Murru rose through the Cagliari youth ranks before making his professional debut back in 2011. He has now made over 30 appearances since then and was even called up to the Azzurri national squad by Cesare Prandelli in March 2014. Murri brings stability to the defence that belies his younger years and he has the makings of a future star. 

    Serie A stalwart Daniele Dessena is now in his second stint at Cagliari following a loan spell during the 2009/10 campaign. The midfielder recently signed a new deal at the club that ties his future down until 2017 and continues to be a key member of the side, scoring four goals in 81 appearances.

    Having featured on over 200 occasions in the Rossoblu jersey during two separate spells, veteran Andrea Cossu continues to pull the strings at the heart of midfield. He lays assists on for his team-mates on a regular basis and is brilliant from dead ball situations. Cossu has adapted his game in recent years after being converted from a winger into a number 10.

    Versatile Swedish international and former Bianconeri midfielder Albin Ekdal is able to play in a variety of positions behind the striker. After experiencing a year-long goal drought, he scored a hat-trick for the Sardinians in a 4-1 victory over Inter at San Siro earlier on this campaign. The 25-year-old is now in his fourth season with the club.

    Diminutive forward Marco Sau has pace to burn. Adept with either foot, the 27-year-old acts as the key fulcrum between midfield and attack and possesses talent in abundance. He ended the 2012/13 campaign as Cagliari’s top scorer and will be the dangerman to watch out for come Thursday evening.

    Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo began his professional career as a midfielder before switching roles. Blessed with physical presence, he possesses fantastic aerial ability and has become a menace for opposition backlines. Although now deployed as a frontman, Ibarbo needs to improve on his finishing if we wants to become one of Serie A’s most-feared forwards.

    Manager

    Famous for his free-flowing attacking football, Zdenek Zeman made Cagliari his 13th Italian club in a managerial career that has spanned 33 years.

    Born in Prague in 1947, his first coaching experiences were with amateur football teams from the Palermo neighbourhood (where he had been residing in the late 1960s) before getting his big break as head coach of Licata in 1983.

    From there, Zeman moved to sides including Parma, Foggia, Messina, Lazio, Roma, Napoli, Lecce, Brescia and Pescara before being fired in his second stint in charge of the Giallorossi. Following over 12 months out of the game, the 67-year-old was appointed manager of the Sardinians in June 2014.

    Despite his long list of Italian clubs, Zeman has only ever won league titles with Licata (Serie C2), Foggia and Pescara (both Serie B). He did, however, pick up the Panchina d’Argento award in 2012, an accolade given to the best non-Serie A coach for winning promotion.

    The Czech bases his 4-3-3 offensive system on Dutch Total Voetball with a particular emphasis on pressing high up the pitch, playing with a high defensive line and zonal marking. Zeman will hope he can turn Cagliari’s fortunes around after their disappointing 15th-place performance last time out.

    It has been a difficult start to the campaign for his charges, however, with two victories, six draws and seven losses telling their Serie A story so far. A win against the reigning champions would go some way towards kick-starting their faltering league season.

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