Grieving Genoa seeks relief from derby after bridge collapse

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              FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2018 file photo, a Genoa soccer team jersey and scarf drape the coffin of a victim of a collapsed highway bridge, during a funeral for some of the victims, in Genoa's exhibition center Fiera di Genova, Italy. In the more than three months since 43 people were killed in the Morandi highway bridge collapse, Genoa's residents have had little to smile about. The city derby on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018 ,the first meeting between Genoa and Sampdoria since the bridge tragedy, could provide an opportunity for some relief. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP, file)
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ROME (AP) — The local economy is devastated. The traffic is endless. A general sense of mourning lingers.

In the more than three months since 43 people were killed in the Morandi highway bridge collapse, Genoa’s residents have had little to smile about.

The city derby on Sunday — the first meeting between Genoa and Sampdoria since the bridge tragedy — could provide an opportunity for some relief.

“I hope the derby can produce a smile on the faces of all of Genoa’s citizens,” Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero said.

The “Derby della Lanterna” — named for the port city’s light house — is one of the most heated intracity matchups in Italy outside of Rome and Milan.

Making matters more critical is that both Genoa and Sampdoria are in crisis.

Since Ivan Juric began his third stint as Genoa coach last month, replacing the fired Davide Ballardini, the squad has not won in four matches. The two draws and two losses over that span include a 5-0 thrashing by Inter Milan.

Sampdoria has done even worse with a draw and then three straight losses entering the derby — with 11 goals conceded in its last three games.

Still, there have been moments of greatness.

Genoa striker Krzysztof Piatek leads Serie A with nine goals, having scored all of them in the first seven rounds.

An airborne back-heel volley against Napoli in early September from veteran Sampdoria forward Fabio Quagliarella is in the running for Serie A goal of the season.

Both Genoa and Sampdoria had their opening matches in August postponed because of the bridge collapse. What caused a stretch of the bridge to give way, sending trucks and cars plunging into a dry riverbed during a heavy thunderstorm, is under investigation by prosecutors.

Hypotheses include possible inadequate maintenance or design flaws. The bridge was a major traffic artery for the northwestern port city and its closure has caused long detours and prompted traffic jams along old coastal roads.

A cartoon image of Genoa and Sampdoria fans embracing to replace the bridge was widely shared online in August.

Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci said recently that demolition of a supporting pillar on one end of the bridge should begin next month. To be demolished later is the pillar near apartment buildings, whose evacuated occupants hope to retrieve belongings.

Bucci said a replacement bridge should be completed by mid-2020.

Genoa midfielder Romulo, who previously played for Hellas Verona and Juventus, noted that the Genoa derby has a bigger significance than others he has played in.

“In Turin, if you play for Juventus, the derby is like any other match — there’s too wide of a gap between the squads,” Romulo said. “In Verona, the difference is felt with the fans: Chievo has very few supporters so you don’t feel the tension of the derby in the week-long buildup.

“Here nobody is talking about anything else. On the streets and at the restaurant everyone keeps on stopping me asking me to beat ‘la Samp.'”

For this week, at least, people in Genoa have something else to discuss besides the bridge collapse.