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Friday May 6 2011
Demotion Derby

The 82nd Derby della Lanterna finds both Genoa and Sampdoria in bad shape, but that won't stop them producing a scintillating spectacle. Scott Fleming writes

There's a sense of symmetry to the latest edition of the Derby della Lanterna. Two underachieving clubs, two unpopular Presidents, two Coaches living on borrowed time and two squads filled with the rotten fruit of ill considered transfer campaigns.

All the evidence suggests that you might be better off breaking out the stamp collection if you're seeking entertainment on Sunday night, yet there's an argument to be made that the 82nd meeting of Genoa and Sampdoria might be the best yet. Why? Because it could be the last for a long time.

Sampdoria are 17th, one measly point clear of the relegation zone with three daunting fixtures remaining. Roma and Palermo lie in wait once the derby's dealt with.

Genoa, meanwhile, are sat in the pressure free vacuum that is mid-table, that twilight zone where European qualification and relegation are equally distant. This would be the dullest climax to a season the Grifone faithful have ever witnessed – if it wasn't for the golden opportunity they've been presented with, the opportunity to push their arch rivals towards relegation.

For a club that spent most of the nineties and a good deal of the noughties in Serie B, looking up enviably as Samp lorded it in Serie A, it's an absolutely priceless prospect.

"Sampdoria against Genoa is different to all the other derbies," said Marcello Lippi in 2008. "It is less spiteful than the others and that's what makes it so good."

Less spiteful? The World Cup winning maestro might revise that opinion if he visits Marassi on Sunday. Earlier this week some mischievous Rossoblu fans paid a visit to Sampdoria's club shop. "Serie B," they daubed on the walls in bright blue spray paint. "Even Padre Pio cannot save you."

That same club shop was the subject of more Press attention when pictures emerged of the queues for Lanterna tickets. Outside the Genoa shop there was a flock of supporters patiently waiting in line. Outside the Sampdoria shop there was no one, just a security guard who could not have looked more lonesome if tumbleweed had blown past.

Davide Ballardini won't be looking forward to Sunday's spectacle with quite as much relish as the Rossoblu tifosi. Having replaced a popular and long serving incumbent mid-season, then endured a bewilderingly frantic January transfer window that robbed of him of several first team regulars, the tactician has done as well as could reasonably be expected of him in the Grifone hotseat, and yet his departure from the port city seems inevitable, and has done for some time.

Whilst winning back to back derbies and sending Samp towards Serie B might ensure Ballardini's place in the club's history and the fans' minds, it probably won't stop him being unemployed come summer.

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