Poor Amauri. The Juventus striker has spent the best part of three years in a quandary over whether he would look better as an international footballer dressed in yellow or in blue, now his outside chance of going to a World Cup in any colour appears to have finally vanished. The Brazilian-born Italian citizen has been ruled out of the next month of the season with the thigh injury he collected against Ajax in midweek.
This, ahead of a poignant club fixture for a player whose Serie A goals have, at times, tempted his native country and his adopted one to consider his claims. Amauri was given his first call-up to the Brazil squad in February last year but Juve would not release him because the request came too late under Fifa rules. Juve entertain Palermo this evening; it was in the pink jersey of the Sicilian club that Amauri established his reputation as a sharpshooter. Juve will miss him.
After a bleak three months either side of Christmas, he had been coming into form, with three goals from his last four matches. Juve have not had great luck with fitness. Amauri's setback, the club report, is their 50th injury problem of the campaign, and deprives them of a sixth senior man tonight, in addition to Gigi Buffon, Christian Poulsen, Vicenzo Iaquinta, Sebastian Giovinco and Martin Caceres.
Amauri will be out for the best part of a month, as could Buffon, by which time the battle for fourth place in Serie A may have taken several twists and turns. Juve, unbeaten in Alberto Zaccheroni's six matches in charge, are just one point ahead of Palermo. Above them, the top three are already some distance away, with Roma nine points above Juve, and second-placed AC Milan a point above Roma, while Inter Milan still lead their nearest challengers by four points.
But below, there is quite a scrap in prospect for the one remaining ticket into next season's Champions League. Between fourth and ninth position is a gap of just three points. "This is the fun part of the year," beamed Alessandro Del Piero, the Juve captain anticipating the calendar facing Juve after they secured their progress to the last 16 stage of the Europa League, where they will meet Fulham.
Besides Palermo, Juve also face Sampdoria in Serie A in the next fortnight and Samp, like Napoli and Palmero, could leapfrog them into fourth place with one good win. Cagliari and Genoa sit just behind. Of the remaining quartet, Napoli have the toughest task this afternoon, with the visit of Roma to the San Paolo. Sampdoria are at Parma, whose once promising pursuit of a top-four finish has fizzled, while Genoa host Bologna and Cagliari go to Chievo.
Milan, meanwhile, host Atalanta with a dark cloud of controversy hanging over them as they seek to maintain second position. Their long-serving defender, Georgia international Kakha Kaladze, has been obliged by the club to issue a public apology for statements he made to Sky Italia TV about his time at Milan since Leonardo, once a playing colleague of Kaladze's, took over as head coach. Kaladze has been sidelined since returning from injury and he said on Sky: "I could have left the club last summer but the club wouldn't sell me. I then did everything I could for the team. I have been marginalised. For me, it's a question of dirty tricks."
That last comment drew a stern denial from Milan and an apology from Kaladze. "It was an inappropriate phrase," said the Georgian in a statement. firstname.lastname@example.org Juventus v Palermo, KO 11.45pm, Aljazeera +1