Juventus
    Juventus
      12.09.2014 19:32 - in: Serie A S

      Udinese in the spotlight

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      Founded in 1896, the Zebrette have been mainstays in Italy’s top flight for the past 18 years

      Club

      Udinese are a historic club based in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the North East of Italy on the border with Austria and Slovenia. They share the same black and white colours as Juventus, a strip which has seen them nicknamed the Zebrette.

      Founded in 1896 as part of the Udinese Society of Gymnastics and Fencing, Udinese is the second oldest club in Italy after Genoa, although the footballing division of the organisation wasn’t created until a group of gymnasts decided to start playing in 1911.

      The Zebrette took part in their first FIGC-recognised tournament in 1912/13 when they battled it out with Petrarca and Padova in the Campionato Promozione, finishing second.

      The 1920/21 campaign is now considered a landmark one seeing as it featured the debut of Gino Bellotto, whose record of 17 seasons with the club still stands today.

      During the subsequent year they came the closest they have ever been to a domestic cup victory, finishing as Coppa Italia runners-up following a 1-0 defeat to Vado in the final.

      The club spent the majority of the 1930s and 40s in Serie B, but they almost claimed the Serie A Scudetto title in 1954/55 when they were pipped to the post by Milan.

      However, a subsequent decline saw them slip into Serie C in 1963/64, where they remained until they rejoined Serie B in 1978 and went back up to the top flight the following year.

      In 1983, Udinese pulled off a monumental transfer coup when they managed to sign Brazilian Zico, considered perhaps the most skilful player in the world at the time.

      But the legendary midfielder alone wasn’t enough to bring success, and the team proceeded to yo-yo between divisions until their 1995/96 promotion to Serie A, where they have been ever since.

      That season they secured UEFA Cup qualification under Alberto Zaccheroni, and the following year they finished third behind second-placed Inter and title-winners Juventus, thanks mainly to the 27 goals of Oliver Bierhoff.

      In 2000, Udinese pulled off their first major trophy win with victory in one of the Intertoto Cup finals. They qualified for the top European competition, the Champions League, for the first time in 2004/05, but failed to make it into the knockout stage after being drawn in a tough group with Barcelona, Werder Bremen and Panathinaikos.

      Though recent campaigns have been hampered by high-profile departures, one constant has been the goals of club hero Antonio Di Natale, who was Serie A’s back-to-back top-scorer in 2010 and 2011.

      Udinese finished the 2013/14 campaign in 13th position with Di Natale once again spearheading the attack to good effect, ending the term with more than 15 goals for the fifth consecutive year.

      Stadium

      Udinese play their home games at the distinctive Stadio Friuli, the ground with the seventh highest capacity in Italy.

      It can usually hold 41,652 spectators, but the number is currently reduced to 12,432 as major renovations continue. The updated stadium will be entirely under cover, while the historic curved arch over the central stand is to be preserved in what will otherwise be a complete overhaul to a more modern aesthetic.

      The Stadio Friuli was built to replace the club’s previous ground, the Stadio Moretti, at the wish of the mayor of Udine, Angelo Candolini, who wanted the city’s team to have a more modern home. Its inaugural game was on 26 September 1976 between Udinese and Seregno in Serie C.

      In 1984, it became one of the first stadiums in Europe to have a giant TV screen, christened ‘The Cosmo’.

      In March 1989, a testimonial game held for former Udinese player and Brazil legend Zico, who was retiring from international football, was played out between Brazil and a Rest of the World outfit at the Stadio Friuli.

      Besides football, the stadium also hosts rugby games, concerts throughout the year and an annual meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      Current Team

      The Zebrette player who strikes most fear into the hearts of opposition is perhaps captain Antonio Di Natale, by now a talismanic figure after a decade of service. The 36-year-old already has six goals to his name this season after bagging a brace in the Serie A opener with Empoli as well as putting four past Ternana in the Coppa Italia. He is the club’s all-time top scorer with 195 strikes.

      Another forward capable of terrorising defences is Luis Muriel, who continues to make waves in Serie A. Ambidextrous and blessed with fearsome speed, the Colombian scored four goals in 24 appearances for Udinese last season. The versatile 23-year-old can also fill in as an attacking midfielder and has drawn comparisons to famous Brazilian striker Ronaldo for his playing style. 

      Allan is a combative midfielder who joined the club during the 2012 summer transfer window. The Brazilian is a mainstay within the side, racking up 70 appearances for the Zebrette as well as making the most tackles in Serie A (136) during the 2013/14 season. 

      Attacking midfielder Emmanuel Badu has established himself as one of Udinese’s key men in the middle of the park. The Ghanaian, who represented his country at the 2014 World Cup, enjoyed his best season in front of goal for the Friuli-based outfit last year, hitting the back of the net on five occasions.

      Transfer Activity

      Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis has returned to the club following a productive one-year loan spell at Granada, where his man-of-the-match performance against Barcelona helped the La Liga underdogs to a famous 1-0 win over the Catalan giants. He was named in Andrea Stramaccioni’s first Serie A starting line-up and kept a clean sheet in an opening day win over Empoli. 

      In defence, Paraguayan right-back Ivan Piris has arrived on a season-long loan deal from Deportivo Maldonado. The 24-year-old previously featured for Roma during the 2012/13 Serie A campaign where he made 29 appearances and was part of Paraguay’s 2011 Copa America runners-up squad.

      Versatile attacking midfielder Panagiotis Kone has joined Udinese with a wealth of Serie A experience. After starring for both Brescia and Bologna during his four seasons in Italy, the 27-year-old was also a prominent member of the Greece side who reached the second round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

      Albert Riera, who signed for the Zebrette on a pre-contract agreement in March 2012 but was subsequently loaned out to Watford, arrives with a strong European pedigree. The well-travelled winger (who can also play at left-back) has plied his trade in Spain, England and Turkey where he won the Super League in each of his three seasons with Galatasaray.

      Also signing up is French striker Cyril Thereau, ending a four-year spell with Chievo where he scored 26 goals in over a centenary of appearances. The 31-year-old target man possesses great aerial ability and is also adept at helping out the defence.

      Going the other way, Roberto Pereyra has swapped the black and white jersey of Friuli for that of the reigning champions. The 23-year-old Argentine arrived at the Bianconeri in the summer after three successful years with Udinese.

      After leaving the club in 2013, left-back Pablo Armero returned after stints at both Napoli and West Ham. The 27-year-old has now moved on to Milan on a season-long loan.

      Elsewhere, 22-year-old striker Matej Vydra has rejoined Watford after spending the best part of two years on loan with both the English Championship side and West Bromwich Albion in the top flight.

      Manager

      Andrea Stramaccioni, who was in charge at Inter for 14 months from March 2012 to May 2013, has taken the reins from long-serving boss Francesco Guidolin.

      The 38-year-old has big shoes to fill after succeeding one of the most well-respected Italian managers around.

      Prior to his managerial career, Stramaccioni acted as youth coach at Roma where he won two national titles: Giovanissmi Nazionali in 2007 and Allievi Nazionali in 2010, before moving on to guide the Inter Primavera to the NextGen Series title in 2012.

      After a string of poor results saw ex-Bianconeri manager Claudio Ranieri sacked, Stramaccioni was named caretaker boss by the Inter hierarchy and led the Nerazzurri to a sixth place finish.

      The start of the 2012/13 Serie A campaign saw him confirmed as head coach but the Milan-based outfit would have a difficult year, finishing in ninth position. Stramaccioni’s personal highlight from the season saw the young tactician lead Inter to a 3-1 away victory at Juventus Stadium, ending the Bianconeri’s 49-game unbeaten run in the process.  

      He was replaced at the end of the campaign by current incumbent Walter Mazzarri and since being out of management, has frequently featured as a pundit on RAI Sport for both the Confederations Cup and recent World Cup in Brazil.

      Last season’s disappointing 13th-placed finish for the Zebrette came after three consecutive years of securing European qualification under the tutelage of Guidolin.

      Stramaccioni will hope that his fresh approach can be used as a springboard to revitalise the squad’s fortunes during the coming campaign.

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