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Di Natale to go where no Italian has gone before

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By Owen Neilson

Monday 23 January 2012

When Gloria Pitzer, cookery heroine for American housewives wrote, “About the only thing that comes to us without effort is old age,” she obviously hadn’t seen Antonio Di Natale in action.

In a strangely lethargic performance yesterday at the Stadio Firuli, Toto’s strike was a rare moment of brilliance, blasting in a volley eight minutes into the second half.

Vincenzo Montella, the Catania coach and former clubmate of Di Natale at Empoli had said before the game that the striker hadn’t really been interested in football before joining Udinese, which made it inevitable the 34 year-old would respond on the pitch.

Pablo Armero, who had his first strike of the season chalked off and given to Mariano Izco as an own-goal, darted to the byline and chipped the ball to the penalty spot where Di Natale swiveled on his right foot and unleashed with his left, the ball fizzing past Andrea Campagnolo in the Elefanti goal for his 14th blow of the campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich, 30, got a brace at Novara who seem nailed on for relegation, and joined Toto on 14, with German Denis also 30, offered scant opportunity in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Juventus.

Ibra’s form has consistently faltered after January in recent years while Denis is yet to net in 2012 as Atalanta have lost all three games since the turn of the year. Napoli’s inconsistency isn’t helping Edinson Cavani but the 24 year old Uruguayan only had himself to blame yesterday, missing a penalty in the 1-1 draw with Siena.

Four strikers, four teams, four ages but the eldest going for his third consecutive capocannoniere crown. Only two men have made a tripletta before, the last was UEFA President Michel Platini who managed a total of 54 goals in 88 appearances between 1982 and 1985 for Juventus. The other is Gunnar Nordahl who had his record of most goals at a single club (210 Milan) surpassed by Francesco Totti this weekend. Nordahl won the top scorer award five times, with his three season tally from 1952-55 standing at 76 goals in 98 matches. Di Natale already has 71 strikes from 89 games, and going on yesterday’s finish could well match the great Swede’s ratio.

The weary co-commentary statement that a great striker can only have one chance and score was certainly applicable against Catania, yet Toto looked sprightly from the first whistle. Surprisingly nippy over twenty metres, he also revealed his skill, teasing Alessandro Potenza and Nicola Legrotaglie in the corner while having the ability to drop deep and link the play or be on the defender’s shoulder as he was when the first goal went in.

Considering Platini was 29 when he won his final award Di Natale’s record after turning 30 on the 13th October 2007 is doubly remarkable. The Napoli native has scored 97 times in the league, more than half his career total of 183, which is a reminder of the only blot on his achievements, that curious isolation from the national team. Since his last appearance in Italian blue at the 2010 World Cup, he’s amassed 49 in all competitions and with Antonio Cassano out injured, Alessandro Matri’s inexperience and Mario Balotelli’s unpredictability it would seem mad for Cesare Prandelli to exclude the countries best goalscorer.

If he can surpass names like Meazza, Piola, Riva, Pulici, Pruzzo and Signori to become the first Italian in history to win the top scorer award three years in a row, surely Prandelli can find a place for Toto at Euro 2012.

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