Sunday afternoon at the Stadio Bentegodi was everything a Chievo fan could wish for as the triple champions (Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League) came to town. Inter, with all their overpaid superstars, waltzed in knowing full well the Gialloblu had only ever beaten them once in their nine years in Serie A, but ended up leaving with tails very much between legs as the hosts celebrated a deserved 2-1 triumph thanks to goals from Sergio Pellisier and Davide Moscardelli.
With Coach Stefano Pilli’s men having not won in their last four games, and, even more alarmingly, not scored a goal for nearly 400 minutes, the chances of the Flying Donkeys ending this miserable run of results against Inter appeared very slim. But this is why we all love football – no other team sport has the bigger capacity to surprise us.
The victory was achieved in no small part due to the return to fitness of Club legend Sergio Pellissier. It’s no coincidence that since the Gialloblu skipper limped off early in week nine’s goalless draw at Parma, the three subsequent league games have all ended without the Gialloblu making a mark on the opposition’s net.
Pellissier’s bullet header on 29 minutes, which put the Gialloblu in front and took the striker’s tally to five goals this season, was a reflection of what has so far been a very unique and strange season at the Bentegodi.
According to the experts, not to mention the majority of the Chievo faithful, this was not supposed to happen to the Flying Donkeys this season. They had just endured two campaigns of struggle under previous Coach Domenico Di Carlo, now with Sampdoria, the most recent of which produced a nervous climax and a scramble to 14th place.
A new Coach in the guise of Stefano Pioli was appointed straight out of Serie B, where the Gialloblu had been themselves only three years ago, and another season battling against relegation was predicted. Instead, the Gialloblu made a flying start, winning their opening league game for only the second time in the top flight, and then enjoying back-to-back away wins at both Genoa and in the cauldron of Naples.
Going into the week nine away trip to Parma, Chievo were lying in an extremely healthy fifth place. But after the subsequent run of three goalless draws and a 1-0 defeat at Fiorentina, the Gialloblu had dropped like the proverbial brick to 11th after last week’s draw at Sampdoria.
These statistics seemed to vindicate the experts’ predictions, and a harsh winter beckoned. But Sunday’s fantastic result has given a huge lift to the Club’s players, Coach and fans, as it marked the first ever victory over a reigning Champions League holder at the Bentegodi.
Chievo are back up to ninth and the joyous smile on Pioli’s face afterwards was in stark contrast to that of his counterpart Rafael Benitez. By 6pm on Sunday night it became clear exactly why Liverpool fans were so grateful to see the back of him. His post-match press conference was excruciatingly painful, if not bordering on the embarrassing.
The Spaniard, who took over from the imperious Jose Mourinho in the summer and inherited pretty much the exact same treble-winning squad, managed to blame everyone but his players for the result. Everything from injuries, the pitch, the weather and the referee had conspired against his team to make sure this was Inter’s worst position at this stage of the season since 2004.
All this points to one thing – Benitez is a man on the brink and President Massimo Morratti has effectively told the Spaniard he has Wednesday night’s Champions League clash with FC Twente to save his job.
The aftermath of the game points to a return of the phrase ‘Il Fatal Verona’, which was made famous back in 1973 when Milan threw away the Scudetto in this great city against Hellas. It might well be used again to describe Benitez throwing away his job before he’s had a chance to see out a whole season. But let’s not allow the Inter crisis to overshadow what was a fantastic win for all at the Bentegodi.