A home from home, Inter have enjoyed a fine week in the Italian capital. Firstly, and most controversially, their Scudetto march was not so much obstructed as waved through by an uninspired Lazio who did little to assist their city rivals Roma’s attempts to displace the reigning champions.
The Biancocelesti’s efforts were largely condemned from all quarters, as the effort – or lack of it – they expended against the Nerazzurri raised further questions about the integrity and processes of Calcio. Coming against the backdrop of the ongoing Calciopoli trial and revelations in Napoli, Lazio’s meek surrender to prevent their neighbours from acquiring the title once again tarnished the legitimacy of football on the peninsula.
Having endured an awful season, one could forgive the La Aquile fans for not wanting their nearest and not so dearest to revel in further glory, but those excuses cannot be extended to the players, whose responsibility it is to uphold the name of the club, the league and the sport. The Lazio fans cheering each Inter goal and holding up sarcastic banners can easily be dismissed as terrace banter, but the reluctance of the players to compete and present Inter with a tangible opposition has been construed as effectively throwing a game. It was pretty ugly stuff.
Apart from Jose Mourinho’s men, there were few winners in this farce. The endeavours of both sides over 36, and eventually 38 games will be tainted as the nations football fans will not truly know who deserved to win this years title. Of course, had Roma not carelessly slipped against Sampdoria the week before, the result and performance of Lazio against Inter would have lost some significance and criticism, but the title race deserves equality for champions to prevail, and the attitude of the Lazio players on Sunday has given an unfair advantage to a team who should need no assistance. It is a sad indictment of the mentality of Lazio as a club, and the depths they have plummeted that they should embrace another defeat in such fashion.
With Inter firmly in position to once again defend their Serie A crown, the first leg of a potential domestic double and overall treble was attained on Wednesday night back at the Olimpico when they defeated Roma in the Coppa Italia. Given the events of the proceeding weekend there was an air of hostility to events, which manifested itself into a fractious, uncohesive and largely forgettable game between the countries’ two best sides. A rare moment of quality provided by Diego Milito proved the difference. Tensions were visibly simmering and could have erupted but were just about kept in-check until injury time when Francesco Totti was ashamedly sent off for viciously booting Mario Balotelli round the leg. It was a brainless, spiteful and potentially dangerous action from the il Lupi skipper, who will now sit out the remainder of his sides championship challenge. There have been allegations of racism towards Balo labelled at Totti, and the final whistle also saw a gathering of Roma players tussle with their counterparts by the corner flag in scenes which transmitted themselves that Roma know they are a beaten beast. Their chase futile, their quest for silverware nearly over.
It was an acrimonious end for Claudio Ranieri and his troops, who have gallantly kept chase with il Biscione all season. Their efforts to peg back and pass la Benemeata has caught the hearts and mind of the public – their football, their spirit, their belief and their desire to succeed under such adversity almost deserves the title alone. If that doesn’t come, Roma should at least keep their head and their honour. If they cannot win the league, they should not lower themselves to the level of Lazio.
With just two rounds left to play, the title is in Inter’s hands and the relegation battle is over bar the shouting. The European places have been settled, the only issue to resolve is the rather intriguing prospect of who gets fourth place. Over in Sicily there is a tasty encounter afoot between Palermo and current incumbents of the last Champions league place, Sampdoria.
The Rossanero are just two points behind the Blucerchiati going into what is tantamount to a Champion’s League play-off. A draw should do it for Samp who have won five on the trot but the Renzo Barbera is an imposing venue for visiting sides this term, Palermo unbeaten on their patch all year. So, it is winner takes it all, a one-on-one, man-o-man, no third parties to influence proceedings, or lame opposition to have their bellies tickled. Let battle commence, and let the best team win.