So its first blood to Roma in this season’s derby della Capitale on an afternoon of high emotion at the Stadio Olimpico. For once, the authorities in Italy made the right decision by moving the game to an afternoon start time rather than its traditional Sunday night kick-off slot. Fans flocked to the stadium, many families deciding to take advantage of the earlier start time and the reduced ticket prices that Lazio, being the home side, had instigated, in a hope to create a friendlier atmosphere inside the ground. It succeeded, and with 20 thousand Romanisti packed into the Curva Sud, Rome’s alternative coliseum awaited its gladiators.
There was a twist in this year’s plotline however, with Lazio coming into the game as league leaders, and after Inter’s slip up 24 hours earlier at home to Brescia – it was an opportunity for the Biancocelesti to put considerable daylight between themselves and the Nerazzurri. Roma, after an awful start to the campaign, have steadied the ship in recent weeks and after a moral boosting win in Basel in the Champions League in midweek, were looking to derail their city rivals assault on the Serie A title. Lazio coach Eduardo Reja decided to start with Tommaso Rocchi in attack alongside in form Sergio Floccari. His opposite number, Claudio Ranieri, deprived of the services of his captain Francesco Totti through suspension, recalled Mirko Vucinic to the starting 11 in a two pronged attack alongside Marco Borriello. Brazilian midfielder Fabio Simplicio was given a rare start in with Jeremy Menez playing just behind the front two – the French midfielder would only last for 39 minutes after an injury meant he was replaced by Leandro Greco. During the first 45 minutes of an absorbing contest, Roma should have been in front after Greco slotted home a cross from Marco Borriello. The goal was chalked off as the assistant on the opposite side deemed the man on loan from Milan to be offside – replay’s suggested it was the wrong decision. Tensions were bubbling under the surface – little did we know how they would explode during the second period.
Roma fans must have thought the curse of match referee Emidio Morganti had returned to haunt them. In two previous derbies officiated by him, the Giallorossi have lost them both. Indeed French defender Philippe Mexes had special reason to fear the curse of Morganti having been dismissed three times by him in his career. Seven minutes into the second period, the blue touch paper was finally lit as a shot from the impressive Simplicio crashed against the hand of Lazio defender Stephan Lichsteiner with such ferocity that the Swiss international had to receive treatment for what looked initially like a broken finger. Fortunately he was ok and it was left to Borriello to give the Giallorossi the lead – he did, just, as the ball squirmed under Fernando Muslera’s body and into the corner of the net, cue bedlam in the Curva Sud. The gloves were now off and in a frantic last half hour the game swung from end to end.
Firstly Simplicio crashed a shot against the crossbar, then came the defining moment of the match as Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri looked to have been hauled down in the penalty area by John Arne Riise. Morganti waved away the rabid protests from incensed Lazio players. Minutes later Pasquale Foggia, on for the largely ineffectual Hernanes, thundered a shot against the post before Morganti awarded Ranieri’s men another spot kick. This time substitute Julio Baptista, who had only been on the field for two minutes, was tripped in the penalty area and Mirko Vucinic, in the absence of Borriello, who had been replaced by the big Brazilian, made no mistake from the spot to close out the match.
The Montenegrin kept his shorts on as delirium erupted in the Curva Sud. Maria Sensi, the wife of the late President Franco, was calming everyone down in the VIP area. Morganti has turned from villain to hero in the eyes of the Romanisti tifosi and as the Giallorossi fans taunted their city rivals with chants of “where is the pigeon?” due to the fact that the authorities had deemed it a risk to fly the Lazio eagle around the stadium prior to kick off, Reja was left fuming and aimed all his vitriol in the direction of Morganti claiming that: “the match was conditioned by the decisions of the referee”. Lazio must lick their wounds and come back fighting in Cesena on Wednesday evening, Roma are back on track, Ranieri is once again a hero as his team overcome their fiercest adversaries without the aid of their number one son.