Recent reports in certain sections of the British media that announced the death of Serie A were made to look rather stupid at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday night. From the moment the two teams walked out onto the pitch to a breathtaking display of colour and pageantry, we knew we were in for something rather special. The 81st running of the Derby della Lanterna saw Genoa looking to win their third consecutive meeting against their bitter rivals, and Sampdoria looking to get to the form that saw them thrill and excite their fans in the opening months of the season. It was Genoa Coach Gian Piero Gasperini’s brave 3-4-3 against the classic 4-4-2 of his opposite number, Luigi Del Neri. Gasperini had his team totally pumped up for the occasion and right from the first whistle, his team played with such a verve and vigour, that their cross city rivals simply had no answer. Giuseppe Sculli and Rodrigo Palacio were sensational on Genoa’s right side, their combination play leaving Sampdoria full-back Reto Ziegler unsure of whom he was to mark. After 11 minutes, Ziegler’s wretched start to the contest was compounded as he brought down Palacio to give Genoa a spot-kick which was despatched emphatically by Omar Milanetto. The Genoa tifosi craved for more and the decibel levels rose again to create an atmosphere seldom seen in any football stadium around the world. Del Neri patrolled his technical area almost bewildered by the pounding his team were taking in the opening exchanges. The mercurial Antonio Cassano was trying his best to breathe life into his side but he was man-marked to such an extent that at one point he rolled down his socks to show referee Roberto Rosetti the close examination he was getting from the Genoa defenders. It seemed that Sampdoria had been given a lifeline on the stroke of half-time as Genoa full-back Giuseppe Biava was dismissed for a second bookable offence, but such was the confidence and trust that Gasperini had in his men he simply withdrew the outstanding Palacio and replaced him with defender Sokratis Papastathopulos to set up a 4-3-2 formation, with the focus still on going for more goals.
The second half continued where the first had left off, Genoa, backed by their vociferous support, continued to storm forward in search of the second goal, and Sampdoria continued to feel sorry for themselves as Cassano was denied any space, striker Giampaolo Pazzini remained anonymous and Ziegler and his defensive partner Fabrizio Cacciatore, looked like they could not wait for the game to end. On 54 minutes, the game was finished as a contest as Genoa captain Marco Rossi got round the back of the hapless Ziegler to fire home his side’s second goal. Cue scenes of utter delirium in the stands as supporters of Il Grifone knew they were witnessing something special. The game had always had a nasty undercurrent to it, both on and off the pitch. Tackles kept flying in and it was growing more and more unlikely that the game would end with the remaining 21 players on the pitch. On 66 minutes the game’s other Marco Rossi, the Sampdoria defender, kindly obliged with a brutal challenge which was probably Rossetti’s easiest decision of the night. Things were now taking a turn for the worse off the pitch too as disgruntled Sampdoria fans started throwing flag poles and sticks into their hosts’ section, and followed this by letting off fire hoses to try to dampen the Genoa tifosi’s celebrations. With fifteen minutes remaining, Ziegler’s nightmare was complete when he brought down Papastathopulos in the penalty area to concede a spot kick which was dutifully despatched by Raffaele Palladino. Celebrations right in front of the Sampdoria fans was probably not the best thing that could have happened to the game, as the Blucerchiati captain Angelo Palombo, led his charges over to the rejoicing Palladino and Co to let them know how they felt about it. Rossetti was superb in controlling the situation as the game came to its conclusion.
There was, of course, time for one more dismissal as Sampdoria defender Cacciatore was given a straight red card for more x-rated tackling and then Rossetti called time on a thrilling encounter. Genoa players celebrating on the pitch were joined by coach Gasperini and the club’s president Enrico Preziosi as their opposition disappeared from view. “We were perfect” exclaimed Gasperini afterwards in the press conference as his opposite number Del Neri conceded that “Genoa fully merited their victory”. It was perhaps the only thing that the beleaguered coach had got right all night. Gasperini becomes the first coach in Genoa history to win three consecutive Derbies, as the overall scores now stand at – played 81, Genoa 20, Sampdoria 29 with 32 draws. If Saturday evening’s events are an example of Serie A being an inferior force, then I don’t think that calcio fans have anything to worry about.