Italy and England unite in Totti adoration

Italy and England rarely agree on football matters, but the two countries were united in saluting record-breaking striker Francesco Totti on Wednesday.

Italy and England unite in Totti adoration
AS Roma forward Adem Ljajic (L) celebrates with Francesco Totti after his goal. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Three days after his 38th birthday, the Roma talisman became the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history when he hit the net in his club's 1-1 draw with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday evening.

The equaliser, which enabled Totti to claim a record previously held by Ryan Giggs, left City on the brink of another early exit from the competition and could be on-form Roma's key to the knockout stages in a group also containing 2013 champions Bayern Munich.

A Champions League winners' medal is the one major honour missing from World Cup winner Totti's trophy cabinet after a career that has made him an idol in his home city.

After turning down local rivals Lazio because he could not bear the idea of playing against his beloved Roma, Totti made his debut for the club as a 16-year-old – at a time when Serie A was considered the best league in the world.

He has gone to become Italy's equivalent of David Beckham complete with a former model wife, Ilary Blasi, a reported €4.3 million annual salary and the celebrity lifestyle to go with it.

But he continues to be seen as a simple, down-to-earth figure whose thick Roman accent is often affectionately mocked.

Typically, he played down the latest milestone, instead talking up Roma's prospects of getting out of the tough group.

"I wasn't thinking about that," he said. "It was a beautiful goal and a beautiful performance but it is the performance that counts.

"When the team helps you to score, the records arrive by themselves, that's normal."

Totti's first-half strike involved a trademark display of guile, his finish deftly clipped over advancing City goalkeeper Joe Hart with the outside of his right boot.

"A Totti eclipse of the Hart," trumpeted the back-page splash of Britain's biggest-selling tabloid, The Sun.

Italy's Corriere della Sera pronounced "The age of gold" while La Repubblica saluted "A Totti pearl" that had earned Roma "a golden draw," – both references to one of the Roma skipper's many nicknames, "Golden Boy".

Italian media also relayed the avalanche of praise for the one-club icon from England, which included the much used "eternal player from the eternal city" and the Guardian's classically-influenced headline: "Ageless Totti extends City's toils."

"Totti's legs may not be able to carry him to quite the places he would still like to go, but his brain has always allowed him to operate in a space that many players simply fail to see," observed The Times.

Twitter jibe

British media have not always been as kind to Totti, who went into Tuesday's match with a reputation for being a cross-Channel choker, having failed to score or shine in nine previous club appearances on English soil.

It was a record that City's media team unwisely decided to highlight in the build-up to the match.

In a message to Roma's official feed, @MCFC tweeted: "We're looking forward to hosting you @OfficialASRoma, and a legendary player such as Totti. He's never scored in England, has he?"

Roma replied: "You're right, @MCFC. Our Capitano has never scored in England. But there's always a first time for everything …"

Whether the jibe made any difference or not, it was obvious from the outset of Tuesday's clash that Totti was in the mood in a city where he suffered one of the most humiliating nights of his career when Roma were hammered 7-1 by Manchester United in April 2007.

If Gervinho had made more of a superb Totti set-up, Roma might easily have secured all three points on Tuesday night and their captain believes their current form makes them a match for anyone in Europe.

"We had the clearer chances and it was not easy after going a goal down," Totti said.

"But we reacted immediately against one of the strongest squads in Europe.

"This result changes nothing. Our objective remains to do our best and get through the group.

"We know it will not be easy with teams like Bayern and City but we can pose problems for anyone."

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Italy makes move to clear out ‘illegal’ Roma camps

Italy's anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini ordered a report Tuesday on the country's Roma population, with a view to shuttering overcrowded, "illegal" camps, provoking an angry response from rights campaigners.

Italy makes move to clear out 'illegal' Roma camps
Illustration photo: AFP

The head of the far-right League ordered the country's regional prefects to draw up “a report on the presence of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti” within two weeks, the interior ministry said in a statement.

“The aim is to verify the presence of illegal camps to draw up an eviction plan,” it said.

The Roma, Sinti and Caminanti are traditionally nomadic ethnic groups who have lived in Europe for centuries.

The Sinti are traditionally from west and central Europe, while Roma have their origins in the east and southeast of the continent. The Caminanti are believed to have their origins in the Norman occupation of Sicily.

The pro-Roma group Associazione 21 Luglio said Tuesday it was “deeply worried” by Salvini's order.

It slammed “a measure which clearly discriminates against these communities, since it does not affect, for example, formal or informal settlements inhabited by persons not belonging to these ethnic groups”.

Some 25,000 Roma, Sinti and Caminanti live in conditions of “housing segregation”, according to the association, accusing the government of maintaining “ethnic ghettos”.

About 15,000 members of the three groups reside in 127 formal settlements in Italy, often in the suburbs of large cities, according to the group.

The rest live instead in informal settlements, some of which are made up of just two to three families.

There are about 300 such informal settlements in Rome, the Associazione 21 Luglio told AFP.

Threats against the Roma and Sinti have increased under Salvini, who sparked controversy last year with his call for a new census of Roma, and for all non-Italians among them to be expelled from the country.

Salvini has also barred Italy's ports to charity vessels rescuing migrants at sea.

The Council of Europe estimates there are between 120,000 and 180,000 Roma, Sinti and Caminanti in Italy — one of the lowest concentrations in Europe.

Over half are Italian citizens with regular jobs and homes, but hate crimes against their less fortunate peers are rife.