After 24 unbeaten league games that brought 60 points out of a possible 72 and propelled them to top spot in Serie A, the dream of a fourth Scudetto is now out of their hands. On a tension filled night in the capital, Roma handed the top spot back to Inter in this most gripping of title races. One day earlier José Mourinho’s men had seen off the challenge of Atalanta, despite going a goal down in the opening five minutes to Simone Tiribocchi strike. Cristian Chivu got his side’s third goal in the final quarter of the game and celebrated by lifting his head protection in the style of Harvey Smith after a clear round at Hickstead. With the Nerazzurri having won, the pressure was shifted on to Claudio Ranieri and his Roma side.
The Roman tactician opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation keeping faith with Jérémy Ménez who has been in outstanding form of late, and relegating big striker Luca Toni to the bench. Francesco Totti led the line hoping to banish the memory of his half-time substitution in last week’s highly charged derby against Lazio. It all started well for the Giallorossi, led by an inspired Totti, they simply outclassed their opponents Sampdoria with some scintillating passing and deservedly got their noses in front after 14 minutes after a lovely combination between Mirko Vučinić and Totti ended with the captain stroking the ball home to ease all the nerves in a packed Stadio Olimpico. This was vintage Roma as Ménez and Vučinić tormented the Samp defence with some outstanding wing play. But the nerves returned to the Olimpco as referee Antonio Damato denied the home side two clear penalty appeals. The first when Daniele Gastaldello almost pulled the shirt Daniele De Rossi’s back, and then Luciano Zauri clearly handballing a Vučinić cross in the penalty area. Roma were incensed and the game seemed to turn on those two incidents. Totti had to calm Vučinić down when he got into an argument with his teammate Simone Perrotta – the Montenegrin was striker clearly frustrated at having wasted several clear cut chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Former Roma Coach Luigi Del Neri was just glad to get his Sampdoria team back into the dressing room as they themselves needed the points in their quest for a Champions League spot next season. He made a double substitution replacing Stefano Guberti, on loan to Samp from Roma, with Daniele Mannini and Andrea Poli, who was in danger of getting sent off after a continuing first-half feud with Totti, with Fernando Tissone. As the second-half began it was another Roma old boy, Antonio Cassano, who started to influence proceedings and in a carbon copy of the move that brought his team all three points against Milan just seven days earlier, he lobbed a wonderful cross from the left which saw Giampaolo Pazzini ghost in behind John Arne Riise to level the scores – the seeds of doubt had been planted in the Roma camp.
Totti lost his influence on the game as Ranieri played his trump card replacing the largely ineffective Perrotta with Luca Toni. It seemed that the hosts were going to try to batter their opponents into submission. With time filtering away, Ranieri discarded defender Marco Cassetti for Rodrigo Taddei as his team went to a 3-2-5 formation – the man from Testaccio is nothing if not courageous. Unlike the previous week however, there was to be no fairytale finish this time around when with just five minutes remaining, Pazzini took advantage of Roma’s offensive strategy to get on the end of a Daniele Mannini cross and give the visitors three priceless points. As time ebbed away, the belief evaporated from the hosts. Philippe Mexès broke down in tears on the bench with Cassetti trying his best to knock back the emotion as the magnitude of this defeat became all too clear.
After the game, Roma President Rosella Sensi attacked referee Damato declaring that he was: “inadequate to control a match of this magnitude”. Del Neri naturally disagreed explaining that: “we must all accept the referee’s decisions”, his team now occupy the final Champions League spot. The blue and black side of Milan now lead by two points with three games left, the Giallorossi are hoping that their bitter cross city neighbours can do them the biggest of favours next week as Mourinho’s side visit the capital to face Lazio in what will surely be a title defining weekend.