Two goals in three second-half minutes saw Sunday evening’s blockbuster clash ended all square as a troubled Juventus came from behind to earn a battling point in the San Siro.
It was billed as the battle for second with Milan holding a four-point advantage over their rivals in a bid to become Inter’s closest challengers. Juve hadn’t won in over a month and Claudio Ranieri’s position was under heavy scrutiny, while the Rossoneri had hit an end of season purple patch with seven wins in their previous eight outings. They were on a run that had seen them leapfrog the Bianconeri and reportedly convince the Milan hierarchy to offer Coach Carlo Ancelotti a new deal in the hope of fending off interest from big spending Chelsea.
Match-ups between these two giants of the Italian game has the unerring ability of throwing up huge talking points and there was one to get the fans going before the game had even started as talismanic Juve skipper, Alessandro Del Piero started the game on the bench. No-one could deny the 34-year-old had been below par of late with last week’s lacklustre showing against Lecce apparently the final straw for the under-fire Ranieri. With Pavel Nedved missing through suspension the Tinkerman was taking a huge gamble and many of the Old Lady tifosi were having anxious looks at their line up, apparently void of any creativity.
However, those doubters were quickly on their feet as Juve made a quick start. First Mauro Camoranesi fired over from inside the box following a neat layoff from Vincenzo Iaquinta, before both Marco Marchionni and Iaquinta were denied by fine tackles from Mathieu Flamini when going for goal. Iaquinta and Flamini were again in battle moments later, this time with the Bianconeri striker claiming for a penalty, but replays showed a fair challenge on the Frenchman’s part.
Milan created their first opening when Kaka’s mazy run was denied by the feet of Gianluigi Buffon before both keepers were tested again by the lively Kaka and Iaquinta. Christian Poulsen and the in-form Filippo Inzaghi were next to try their luck but both were off target as the first half drew to a dreary close with chances at a premium.
The second half started in lively fashion as Inzaghi met a David Beckham corner, only to head wide, while Iaquinta could well have opened the scoring at the other end but Zeljko Kalac got his big frame in the way as the Juve striker fired straight at his chest and Flamini was yet again on hand to make a saving challenge to deny the on-rushing Amauri. Milan was struggling and when Clarence Seedorf’s edge of the box effort flew into Row Z, the Rossoneri tifosi could be heard jeering their side after seeing a rather blunt and lacklustre display thus far.
But that all changed just moments later as il Diavolo’s decisive break broke the deadlock. Iaquinta’s free-kick didn’t clear the wall and when the ball fell kindly for a Milan shirt, a swift counter attack ensued. Inzaghi was sent clear with Juve defenders in desperate chase and with support arriving the former Juve man cut the ball back for Massimo Ambrosini, who promptly scuffed his effort, only for it to find the on-rushing Seedorf at the far post for a simple tap in. It was a hammer blow for the visitors and after their horrific recent form, it seemed for all the world a comeback would fail to materialise.
But Ranieri’s beleaguered troops did muster a response – and it was instant. Just over two minutes had passed from Seedorf’s opener when Camoranesi burst down the flank and whipped in a superb cross to which Iaquinta met with an excellent diving header. It was nothing less than Iaquinta had deserved after an all-action display and with an hour now on the clock, it was all set for an entertaining finale.
Alexandre Pato replaced the injured Beckham as the Rossoneri signalled their intent and after Kaka’s stinging drive gave Buffon a fright, the home side seemed to be upping the ante in search of all three points. Inzaghi fired a volley just over the bar before being replaced by Ronaldinho while Del Piero came on for Amauri to make his 600th club appearance. And the Juve skipper was straight into the action, as he raced clear on goal before slipping at the vital moment and then was left lamenting Camoranesi after the winger selfishly went for goal with his captain free on the far side.
Moments later Giuseppe Favalli was shown a second yellow and the resulting red after a rash challenge on Del Piero but although a man down, Milan flooded forward desperate for a winner. The remaining minutes threw up little in terms of chances although the home side did claim for a couple of penalties – more in hope than expectation. The frantic finale duly ended and it finished a point apiece – a result that suited neither side really, although the Rossoneri look certain to secure second spot in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere, Inter will have to wait another week before securing yet another Scudetto, as Jose Mourinho’s men were twice pegged back by a spirited Chievo. Hernan Crespo’s early strike was cancelled out by Michele Marcolini before Luciano repeated the trick after Mario Balotelli’s second half thunderbolt. Roma’s indifferent form continued as they were forced to fight back from two down at Cagliari with Francesco Totti and Simone Perrotta sparing Luciano Spalletti’s blushes on this occasion.
Udinese made it five wins out of five as they came from behind to convincingly dispatch Lazio with Gaetano D’Agostino’s splendid free-kick the pick of the bunch. Fiorentina tightened their grip on fourth after a comfortable win at Catania, while Genoa’s last gasp draw at Atalanta dented their Champions League ambitions. Sampdoria hit five past 10-man Reggina to all but kill off their mini-revival, while second bottom Lecce could only muster a frustrating draw at home to Napoli. Siena secured their top flight status for another year after a hard fought win against Palermo, thanks to Emanuele Calaio’s second half goal. Meanwhile, the relegation six-pointer between third and fourth bottom ended all square after a dramatic finale in which Bologna’s Marco Di Vaio netted a late penalty to cancel out Alessandro Rosina’s earlier spot kick for Torino.
It leaves us with a thrilling relegation finale at the foot of the table, while the top of the table could be all decided next week, as Inter look odds on to secure the title with three points against Siena.
Serie A Week 35 Results
Atalanta 1 – 1 Genoa
Valdes 9; Criscito 90
Cagliari 2 – 2 Roma
Matri 33, Acquafresca 58; Totti 63, Perrotta 68
Catania 0 – 2 Fiorentina
Jovetic 11, Zauri 93
Chievo 2 – 2 Inter
Marcolini 27, Luciano 73; Crespo 3, Balotelli 64
Lazio 1 – 3 Udinese
Rocchi 56; Floro Flores 60, D’Agostino 69, Quagliarella (pen) 86
Lecce 1 – 1 Napoli
Zanchetta (pen) 43; Pia’ 33
Milan 1 – 1 Juventus
Seedorf 57; Iaquinta 60
Sampdoria 5 – 0 Reggina
Dessena 1, 31, Delvecchio 37, Marilungo 46, Pazzini 52
Siena 1 – 0 Palermo
Torino 1 – 1 Bologna
Rosina (pen) 37; Di Vaio (pen) 86