The 23rd of September 2007 is not really a significant date to anyone, unless of course you are a fan of AS Roma. That was the last time the Giallorossi led the Serie A title race. Move forward almost three years and one half of the capital is gearing up for its most important month for nine years. In 2001, under the guidance of Fabio Capello, a squad which featuring the scintillating forward line of Francesco Totti, Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella, Il Lupi claimed their third Scudetto. In 2010 led by Claudio Ranieri, the similarities are frightening – with Totti again leading from the front, accompanied this time by Mirko Vucinic and Luca Toni. Inter Milan’s slip up on Saturday night at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence opened the door for the Capital club to take over top spot. Jose Mourinho’s faltering side had come from behind to lead 2-1 but a controversial equaliser from Danish defender Per Kroldrup eight minutes from time tied the game and handed the initiative to the Roman’s. The Nerazzurri were livid with the officials as replays suggested a hand ball from Cesere Natali should have seen the goal chalked off. The Nerazzurri’s misery was compounded at full-time when Ayroldi, one of the Assistant Referees, seemed to be overjoyed with the result. Inter Milan’s sporting director Marco Branca controversially claimed in Sunday’s Gazzetta Dello Sport that “Ayroldi was happy for Roma,” a statement that will surely see another heavy penalty levied upon the Milanese giants. Indeed league president Giancarlo Abete came out in the press to quash any suspicions announcing that “I have spoken to Pierluigi Collina (head of the Italian refereeing organisation) and he has assured me that Mr Ayroldi was just happy at having had a good game.” The matter looks set to run and run.
While Roma were looking to oust Inter, their opponents Atalanta needed the points to try to pull away from the relegation zone. The Stadio Olimpico was tense as over 50,000 tifosi filled the arena to see if their club could finally take over top spot. Vucinic, despite being one yellow card away from a suspension and with next weekend’s Rome derby pending, started in attack alongside Jeremy Menez and Totti. Luca Toni was on the bench. Within 27 minutes, the home side were two up, Vucinic getting his 50th goal for the club and Marco Cassetti connecting with a sublime cross from Totti – his first strike since he grabbed the winner in the first Capital derby back in December. Roma were cruising in the spring sunshine, the Holy Grail was in sight. His job done, Ranieri replaced Vucinic with Toni at half-time. Eight minutes after the restart, Roma born Simone Tiribocchi planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the hosts as he pulled one back for the visitors. As Roma dropped deeper into their half, Atalanta smelled blood. The tension inside Rome’s alternative Coliseum was unbearable as the clock ticked down. Chances came and went at both ends. Ranieri decided to replace Totti who, having seen the board produce his number went to the touchline to advise his coach that it should be Menez who should be replaced. Ranieri gave in and took the Frenchman off replacing him with Matteo Brighi. As referee Rocchi blew for full-time the stadium erupted in relief, President Rosella Sensi, who had spent the entire 90 minutes chain smoking, hugged anyone in sight, her father would have been proud. The title is in Roma’s hands – next Sunday’s Rome derby will be one of the most important in recent times. The sense of anticipation in the Capital will be unforgiving.
AC Milan are almost out of title contention after a 2-2 draw at the San Siro against in-form Catania left them four points off the pace. In a week where, yet again, President Silvio Berlusconi has questioned the abilities of Coach Leonardo, his team looked a pale shadow of their former selves as the visitors led 2-0 at the break thanks to Maxi Lopez and Adrian Ricchiuti. Lopez has been one of the signings of the season having joined the islanders in January – if he had been there at the start of the season, then Il Elefanti may have been eyeing a European spot. After the interval, Marco Borriello decided to take things into his own hands and with just ten minutes to go, he had dragged his side back into contention. As the injured Alexandre Pato looked on from the VIP suites, his teammates threw everything at the Sicilians in the final minutes of the contest, but at full-time, with a chorus of boos ringing around this most famous of venues, it seems Berlusconi will demand a change at the helm for next term. This most engaging of football dramas, looks set for more twists and turns as we enter the final month of competition and calcio fans cannot wait for the next instalment.