By Peter Auf der Heyde
Although participation in the Coppa Italia has been whittled down to the last 16, big names like Juventus, Lazio and Inter are making their first appearance in the competition this week.
The format of the knock-out tournament is such that the top eight teams from the previous Serie A season only enter after the fourth round.
Having relinquished their hold on the Coppa Italia – which they had won four times in a row starting 2015 – last year, Juventus will be eager to get back to winning ways.
They are at home to Udinese on Wednesday, with their confidence sky-high after regaining first place in the Serie A from Inter Milan on Sunday. While I Nerazzurri were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Atalanta on the weekend, La Vecchia Signora won a tough match at AS Roma 2-1, with Ronaldo grabbing the second goal for his club.
The Coppa Italia title is one of the few trophies still missing in the Portuguese internationals’ impressive array, and with his glittering career heading towards its end, time is against Ronaldo.
Against Roma, the striker was once again in outstanding form and made no mistake from the penalty spot when given the opportunity early in the match.
Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri could not afford to play a weakened side against Roma and thus most of the players in action on Sunday will take to the field against Udinese.
One notable exception will probably be goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny who will make way for veteran Gianluigi Buffon, with the 41-year-old who returned to Juve at the beginning of the season after spending a year with Paris St Germain, being given the nod for cup games.
With the draw for the remainder of the competition already having been done, Juventus know that a win against Udinese would see them take on the winner of the match between Roma and Parma in the quarter-finals.
The two remaining Serie B teams in the competition have been handed tough matches, with Perugia having to travel to Napoli, while Cremonese take on the title holders Lazio.
High-flying Inter Milan, who have not won any silverware since last lifting the Coppa Italia in 2011, are at home to Cagliari and will face the winner of Atalanta and Fiorentina should they progress.
One team that has already advanced is Torino, who needed a penalty shoot-out to beat Genoa last week. Their reward for that win is a game against the winners of the AC Milan/SPAL tie.
Africa’s leading digital TV operator, StarTimes, has secured the exclusive rights to the Coppa Italia and will show the top matches live and exclusive on the StarTimes football channels.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.