Substitute keeper Zucconi makes a save vs. Aprilia, from Giornale dell’Umbria

With three penalties missed in a row and three games in a row with a player dismissed for a red card, Castel Rigone was looking for their fortunes to change in week 14 vs. Aprilia.

The previous week had brought on a strong performance away vs. ACD Foggia, but a missed penalty (this time by Di Paola, who had just substituted for Tranchitella) and a red card had squashed a comeback from 2-0 for the white-and-blues from Umbria (video highlights for both matches below).

Much of the week’s papers concentrated on the maledizione, or “curse” that seemed to befall the club’s strikers from the penalty spot, a place where about 75% of penalties are normally successful (the figure drops to 69% under the pressure of an end-of-match penalty shootout and (eek) to 14% when a player has to score to keep a team alive in a shootout). Pressure matters. Talking about pressure makes it worse. Little things make or break a curse.

The pressure of missed penalties added to the pressure of staying in the top 12, to remain in contention for Serie C next year. In such circumstances, getting back to basics — the fundamentals of playing well — may be the best remedy. A “game well-played” was in fact the theme of the Castel Rigone front office after the loss at Foggia: sporting director Luca Quarta said, “la squadra ha giocato la miglior partita di queste prime tredici giornate” (Giornale dell’Umbria, 25 Nov., p. 21).

A sense of good play and good spirits stuck around after the match. Two days later, ACD Foggia wrote about Castel Rigone on their website:

Che il Castel Rigone fosse un Club fuori dai canoni calcistici tradizionali lo avevamo capito. E’ bastato guardare, seppur da lontano, il San Bartolomeo, lo stadio da 800 posti, senza barriere ma con siepi di cipressino e aiuole, con eleganti tribune in legno e vetro, per capire che qui, in questo borgo a pochi passi da Passignano sul Trasimeno, il calcio è un’altra cosa. Ecco stadio e calcio, ‘un luogo e uno sport dove si gioca e si rispettano le regole sotto il profilo etico e morale, si dà peso alla dignità e al lavoro di tutti’. Parole di Brunello Cucinelli, patron del Castel Rigone, parole condivise dal Foggia calcio soprattutto quando a parlare sono i fatti.  C’era una atmosfera particolare, domenica scorsa, allo Zaccheria. La celebrazione dell’intitolazione della Curva Nord a Franco Mancini ha reso tutto emozionante. Ma anche nel ventre dello Zaccheria è stato così. Cordialità tra i dirigenti delle due formazioni, prima, durante e alla fine di Foggia-Castel Rigone. Non una parola fuori posto, non uno screzio e poi la sorpresa finale. Quando tutti sono andati via. Entrando negli spogliatoi occupati dal Castel Rigone ci siamo resi conto subito che c’era qualcosa di insolito, ma in bene: gli spogliatoi erano perfettamente puliti. E allora capisci che non sono solo parole, che la correttezza si vede con i fatti. Con tutto il cuore: Complimenti Castel Rigone!

“That Castel Rigone was a club outside the traditional soccer norms we had understood. It is enough to see, albeit from a distance, San Bartolomeo, the stadium with 800 seats, with no barriers except for cypress hedges and flower beds, with elegant stands in wood and glass, to understand that here, in this village a few steps from Passignano sul Trasimeno, soccer is another thing. Here is soccer and a stadium, ‘a place and a sport where you play and you respect the rules in terms of ethics and morality, which gives weight to the dignity and work of everyone’. Words of Brunello Cucinelli, owner of Castel Rigone, words shared by Foggia Calcio, especially when deeds are concerned. There was a special atmosphere, last Sunday, at the Zaccheria [stadium]. The celebration naming the North Stand after Franco Mancini made ​​it all exciting. But even in the bowels of the Zaccheria it was like that. Cordiality between the management of the two clubs, before, during, and at the end of the Foggia-Castel Rigone match. Not a word out of place, not one disagreement, and then the final surprise. When everyone had gone home. Going into the locker rooms occupied by Castel Rigone we realized immediately that something was strange, but good: the locker rooms were spotlessly clean. And then you realize that they are not just words, that fair play is visible in their deeds. With all our heart: Congratulations, Castel Rigone!”

Little things, done assiduously, eventually turn bad to good, whether in matches or relationships. Castel Rigone had itself, on the 26th, published its thanks to the club from Apulia:

Il Castel Rigone calcio intende ringraziare la società del Foggia per l’ospitalità riservata domenica scorsa. Non possiamo che esprimere i nostri più sinceri complimenti al club rossonero per la qualità delle strutture dello stadio Zaccheria, per la cordialità e la competenza di tutti gli addetti ai lavori e per l’organizzazione che traspare. Il Foggia è una di quelle società che consideriamo in perfetta sintonia con il nostro modo di intendere il calcio.

“Castel Rigone Calcio wishes to thank Foggia for their hospitality last Sunday. We can only express our most sincere congratulations to the Red-and-Blacks for the quality of the facilities at the Zaccheria stadium, for the friendliness and competence of all those who work for them, and for the organization and that shines through. Foggia is one of those clubs that we consider in perfect harmony with our understanding of soccer.”

The fact that these two clubs were being so darned nice to each other was picked up by the national newspaper La Reppublica. (And they say that no-one reports good news.)

After demonstrating good sportsmanship by example, results finally came around last Saturday at home, with a 4-1 victory over Aprilia. Federico Zucconi came in for an injury to the regular goalkeeper Franzese, and made several spectacular saves. Dario Tranchitella, who had missed twice from the spot two weeks before, broke out with two goals, one of them a penalty. His first effort from 11 meters out was poor (he missed the goal completely), but the referee ordered a re-kick after players from both teams intruded into the area before the striker struck the ball.

And so on Tuesday, 3 December (Giornale dell’Umbria, p. 36), Dario Tranchitella could say, “Ho spezzato la maledizione” (“I’ve broken the curse”) — acknowledging that it was lucky that the referee had ordered a repeat of his penalty! The Castel Rigone management admitted that overall, the team hadn’t really deserved such a strong result. But fickle as it is, luck has turned, and Castel Rigone is still in the game.

ADDENDUM (13 Jan. 2014): David Sally and Chris Anderson’s recent book, The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know about Soccer is Wrong (Penguin 2103) dedicates its first chapter to analyzing the relative roles of luck and skill in the outcome of a match. They conclude that about 50% of goals involve a piece of luck, while 50% result from players’ skill. This seems a kind of sporting ‘golden mean’ for spectators: Just enough benefit from skill to reward the efforts of the strongest players (‘just deserts‘), and just enough chance to keep things interesting and bolster the hopes of the underdog (a ‘windfall‘).

Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 13 loss v. Foggia:

Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 14 win v. Aprilia:

Interviews after the week 14 win v. Aprilia:

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Note: in the post-match interview Cucinelli joked that if the club didn’t put a hand in its wallet to buy at least another midfielder and attacker, the team might struggle, given injuries and suspensions. With the transfer window opening for signing amateur players, we’ll see if Castel Rigone decides to fortify itself with some new players.

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