At 6pm on Saturday evening, a whole country came to a standstill to watch the most eagerly anticipated game of the season. Roma vs Inter Milan was billed as the game of the year, perennial underachievers against the immovable force, South against North, Claudio Ranieri against Jose Mourinho. A win for Inter Milan and surely that was one of their pursuers out of the title race, a win for the Giallorossi, and the gap that once seemed unbridgeable would be down to just a solitary point. The teams went into battle with similar strategies, both tacticians opting for 4-3-1-2 formations. Luca Toni and Mirko Vucinic v Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder vs Jeremy Menez, Daniele De Rossi David Pizarro and Simone Perrotta v Dejan Stankovic, Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta. The hosts came out of the blocks the fastest, Luca Toni proving a handful right from the start. The champions looked edgy, every decision against them being heavily contested, Eto’o sulking around the pitch like a little boy who had lost his ice cream. 17 minutes in and first blood to Ranieri’s men, a free-kick from the right was headed goalwards by Nicolas Burdisso, Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar got into an awful mess with former Roma defender Walter Samuel and De Rossi nipped in to bundle the ball over the line – cue delirium for 67,000 fans. Roma were flying, the Nerazzurri were crumbling. In a rare sortie during the opening 45 minutes, Walter Samuel almost atoned for his earlier error by rattling the woodwork with a bullet header but that would have been harsh on the hosts who had dominated the first-half.
The second period began in a totally different fashion. The visitors had realised that their grip on top spot was as flimsy as it had ever been and now they looked to punish their opponents for their profligacy in front of goal in the first-half. Mourinho was the first to twist when on 14 minutes, he replaced Stankovic with Goran Pandev as he reverted to his favoured 4-3-3. Just seven minutes later, his bravery paid off when Milito fired home from close range to tie up the contest. Replays showed that the goal should not have stood as earlier in the move, the Argentinian had been in an offside position. Roma were incensed, the big question now was how they would recover from this setback or rather, could they recover from this setback. Immediately Ranieri replaced Menez with Rodrigo Taddei to go 4-4-2 and just five minutes later, the outstanding Luca Toni intercepted a wayward shot from the substitute, swivelled and fired low into Cesar’s left hand corner – cue delirium part two.
Daniele De Rossi, clearly struggling with injury, was replaced by Matteo Brighi, Mourinho counteracted by replacing Cambiasso with Cristian Chivu and Thiago Motta with Ricardo Quaresma – his team now effectively a 4-2-4. Chivu was lucky to still be on the field after a reckless assault on Luca Toni as the match turned ugly. The home fans were willing the clock to run down, nerves were frayed, fingernails chewed to the quick. Prodigal son Francesco Totti made a brief cameo appearance as he replaced Vucinic four minutes from time. Deep into added time, Milito found himself in space just inside the penalty area and fired a shot low towards goal, suddenly the stadium fell silent as the ball cannoned off the post and flew to safety – the Giallorossi had done it, Ranieri had conquered his nemesis – cue delirium part three.
President Rosella Sensi kissed and hugged anyone who was in her vicinity, the players danced with delight in front of the Curva Sud, referee Morganti left the leave surrounded by unhappy Inter Milan players who felt he had ignored several penalty claims throughout the 90 minutes, but the visitors knew they had been beaten by the better side on the night. One swallow does not make a summer but one victory has the capital giants dreaming of a fourth scudetto.
Disgraceful scenes at the San Siro on Sunday evening as Lazio fans chanted racist abuse at AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf. Despite several announcements pleading with the perpetrators to stop, the abuse continued as match officials contemplated suspending the game. Thankfully, the abuse relented after the interval and sadly, that is what will be remembered after a turgid 90 minutes ended 1-1. The Rossoneri were missing several key players, most notably Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho through suspension and Alexander Pato through injury. Lazio have had a forgettable campaign and came to Milan to at least go home with a point – they succeeded.
A forgettable day in Italian football had started with a fans protest in Turin ahead of the match between Juventus and Atalanta. The Bianconeri players had run the gauntlet as they left their pre-match hotel to board the bus to the stadium. Eggs were thrown and Jonathan Zebina was struck on the shoulder by one disgruntled supporter. The team responded with a narrow 2-1 victory but as week 31 drew to a close, it was another time for reflection as calcio is dragged through the gutter once more – Euro 2016 has never looked so far away.