Saturday evening was a joyous atmosphere in one small part of Verona. For the followers of the Gialloblu (who’s usual gates only average around the 13,000 mark), the numbers always swell for the visit of the big four. Even locals turn up wearing the colours of opponents, only to stay away for the rest of the season. For the die-hard faithful however it was a small victory as their heroes returned from a 2-0 halftime deficit to grab a share of the points in a 2-2 draw which really should have been even better.
Just like the Inter game a fortnight earlier, the Flying Donkey’s went into Saturday’s match having only beaten Roma once in 16 previous attempts. Unlike the Inter game though, they couldn’t quite turn the seventeenth into a second victory, but the character shown in gaining a point made it feel like a win. In the week running up to the fixture Coach Stefano Pioli had reiterated that the Gialloblu’s primary target for this season was to reach the magical number of 40 points that would see his side safe in Serie A for another season. The fact that the point gained against the Giallorossi put his side on 20 points for this season with a game in hand on all the other side’s around them, means that the Gialloblu are halfway to their target with a month to go before the winter break. A win away at Bologna in their rearranged fixture on Wednesday night would put the Gialloblu well and truly amongst the European hopefuls.
What made the result all the more satisfying for the Stadio Bentegodi faithful was listening to the post match fallout from Giallorossi Coach Claudio Ranieri who blamed the result on everything from the match officials to the state of the Bentegodi pitch. Although conditions weren’t great, they were the same for both sides and there was nothing but a big smile on Ranieri’s face at halftime when against the run of play his Giallorossi side had just extended their lead in the final minute of an entertaining game. He had rested a number of his key men with this week’s Champions League crunch game in mind and paid the price by wholly underestimating the character of Pioli’s Gialloblu side. Ranieri also lost Daniele De Rossi to a straight red card late on that should have seen his side completely punished, and but for some desperate defending, would have.
As expected, Stefano Pioli made wholesale changes to the side that had reached the last sixteen of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday night with a straight forward 3-0 home win over Serie B leaders Novara. In fact none of the eleven who started the cup match, kept their places for the visit of a Roma side that had been pulled apart at Palermo last weekend. That meant that Uruguayan hit man Pablo Granoche whose two goals in midweek helped defeat Novara, had to be content with a place on the bench. His time was to come however as he stabbed home the equalizer seven minutes from time after replacing Michele Marcolini as the Gialloblu went all out attack in the second half. De Rossi’s sending off shortly after Granoche’s equalizer only spurred the Flying Donkey’s on and Roma couldn’t have complained if they had stolen all three points at the end as first Julio Sergio parried Granoche’s shot with his leg before Philippe Mexes somehow threw his body across to block the follow up from Sergio Pellissier on the goal line. It was a remarkable piece of defending and underlined just how much the game had swung around at the halftime break.
Next up for the Gialloblu is the rearranged Serie A game with Bologna on Wednesday night. The Flying Donkey’s will make the very short journey south to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara to complete the game that was abandoned in the snow a week ago. It’s a side that Gialloblu fans won’t be dreading too much as they have a recent good record against the Rossoblu. The Gialloblu won 2-0 at Bologna last season and drew the encounter at the Stadio Bentegodi. In fact you have to go all the way back to the Serie A season of 2004/05 to find the last time Bologna beat them and that was a 3-1 defeat for the Gialloblu at the Renato Dall’Ara. A win for the Gialloblu will certainly propel them into European hopefuls with the winter break just around the corner.