For 75 minutes in Cagliari on Saturday evening, Napoli were strolling to three points and looked like inflicting a rare home defeat for the islanders at their Sant’ Elia stadium.
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Michele Pazienza had scored the goals that had the Vesuviani well in control of a contest that certainly lacked any real spark. Then Cagliari decided enough was enough, and with 14 minutes left on the clock, Joaquim Larrivey decided the time was right to grab his first ever goal for the Sardinians. Massimiliano Allegri’s men suddenly had a foothold in the game, and just five minutes later they were level thanks to a goal from Alessandro Matri, a strike that equalled club legend Gigi Riva’s record of scoring in seven consecutive games, a record which had stood for an incredible 29 years.
The game was transformed and the fireworks had only just started. On 89 minutes, Allegri played his final hand as Brazilian forward Jeda entered proceedings, replacing Andrea Cossu. A minute later he had the Sant’Elia crowd in absolute ecstasy as his header beat a helpless Morgan De Sanctis in the Napoli goal, Allegri looked to the heavens for gratitude but there would still be a final sting in the tale. Lavezzi inexplicably blotted his copybook, as he needlessly walloped a loose ball that had entered the playing area, against the thigh of Allegri, which referee Pierpaoli deemed sufficient to merit a straight red card. All hell then broke loose in the technical areas and it seemed the game would never get chance to restart. It did, and then it was Napoli coach Walter Mazzari’s turn to thank divine inspiration as Mariano Bogliacino crashed home an equaliser seven minutes into injury time. For 74 minutes, the game was truly forgettable, but in a frantic, chaotic finale, it was truly scintillating.
Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara must feel that his world is caving in around him. A dreadful night for his team in Bari where two deflected goals, a highly dubious penalty, and his star player deciding to emulate Chris Waddle’s penalty nightmare in Italia 90, were just the start of his problems. At the end of the game, Le Vecchia Signora’s new Chief Executive Jean Claude Blanc decided to give his beleaguered manager the dreaded vote of confidence, as rumours began to circulate that former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini had been lined up for his job. It is difficult not to feel sorry for Ferrara, a decent, football man, who just seems to have lost the trust and belief from his players that was there in the early part of the season. His big summer acquisition Diego is in a wretched run of form, which culminated in an appalling penalty miss that would have seen his team pull level for the second time in Saturday night’s contest. Bari fully merited the victory in front of their delirious supporters and it has left the Bianconeri hierarchy with some serious decisions to make as we head into the Christmas break.
What a contrast on Sunday afternoon in the San Siro where Palermo’s new coach Delio Rossi had the courage to take the game to AC Milan and beat them in their own back yard. Former Rossoneri ball boy, and now Palermo captain, Fabrizio Miccoli was simply outstanding as he scored his side’s opening goal five minutes into the second-half, and was instrumental in setting up the Sicilian’s second that was dutifully despatched by their Australian striker Mark Bresciano. So many times, teams go to the San Siro to face the two Milanese giants and are beaten before they enter the field of play. Delio Rossi tore up the tactics manual that states that when you play away from home you keep things tight for 20 minutes or so, as his side threw off the shackles that seemed to leave their hosts totally bewildered and under-prepared. Palermo’s offensive onslaught naturally left gaps at the back but Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho could not exploit them to their advantage and Rossi’s gamble of playing an attacking 4-3-1-2 formation, paid handsome dividends as the Sicilians chalked up only their second victory at the San Siro in their last 25 visits there. The only crumb of comfort for Milan was that their cross-city rivals only took one point from their game in Bergamo against Atalanta, the season remains on a knife-edge as the Yuletide season gets into full swing.