ROME: The dream has rapidly turned into a nightmare for Benevento, the Italian top-flight newcomers seemingly trapped under the influence of a rotten spell cast by the witch on their club crest.
A dreadful, unprecedented start to their maiden Serie A campaign has resulted in 10 defeats in as many matches, with just three goals scored and 24 conceded, one coach sacked and a failed drugs test for the club captain.
Some 60 kilometers to the east of Naples, Benevento is known as the city of witches. According to legend, magicians from all over the world gathered there to perform frightening rituals.
A hat on her head and straddling a broom, the "Strega" -- Italian for witch -- is the symbol of the club and features prominently on the players' shirts. But she has brought them wretched luck.
No team has ever struggled as mightily at the beginning of a Serie A season and the arrival of an in-form Lazio on Sunday doesn't augur well for the league's basement side.
Only French outfit Grenoble have dug themselves a deeper hole so early on -- a run off 11 successive defeats to open the 2009-10 campaign ultimately condemned them to relegation from Ligue 1.
- No magic -
But this unwanted record is not a huge surprise, no more so than the small club from the Campania region's promotion to Serie A, as they reached the top tier after their very first season in Serie B.
Benevento president Oreste Vigorito is a wealthy man who made his fortune through wind energy, but his club is far from it and quickly realized their passage from Serie C to Serie A in just two years was going to be particularly challenging.
Yet all started well. On the opening weekend away to Sampdoria, Benevento went ahead on 15 minutes through Amato Ciciretti, the former Roma youth product undoubtedly the most talented player in the squad. But the hosts equalized 20 minutes later in Genoa before surging ahead and the dream was already over.
Between narrow defeats -- such as losing 1-0 to Bologna and 2-1 to Inter Milan -- and heavy thrashings at the hands of Roma (4-0) and Napoli (6-0), it has proved a painful apprenticeship bereft of miracles or magic tricks.
- Powerful curse -
As if things couldn't get worse, Benevetto skipper Fabio Lucioni tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid Clostabol following a September 10 defeat by Torino.
The team doctor insisted he was to blame by claiming he used a spray that was meant to help a cut heal more quickly, but Lucioni remains provisionally suspended.
Coach Marco Baroni, the man who masterminded promotion to the top division, was unable to withstand his side's catastrophic run and was axed by Benevento at the start of the week.
"It will be difficult, almost impossible," said Roberti De Zerbi, Baroni's replacement, of the club's bid to avoid relegation. "It's not the time to be making promises, we just have to give the 100 percent Vigorito asked me to return the smiles to the people of the region."
But his arrival has been overshadowed by his ties to rivals Foggia, where he served as both player and manager, with Benevento fans greeting the new man in charge with a banner reading "De Zerbi, gypsy" at the club's headquarters.
And on Wednesday, against Cagliari, Benevetto were hit with another sucker punch just as they looked destined to claim the first point after Pietro Iemmello leveled from the penalty spot in the 94th minute.
Just a minute later, Cagliari grabbed a dramatic winner with the last kick of the game, proving the curse remains just as strong and unrelenting as before.