Every now and again you go to a game where the ranks of Press photographers turn their cameras away from the pitch and towards the crowd. It is usually a sign of some major news story which has been brewing in the build-up to the match. At the weekend it was Erick Thohir, AdrianoGalliani and about 12,000 young Juventus supporters who drew the attention of the zoom lenses.
First into the limelight was the will-I-stay-or-will-I-go Milan stalwart as he sat in the stands in Sicily. A few days ago it looked like the most famous follicle-free fellow in Serie A would no longer be part of the Italian game. The worst start to a season by the Rossoneri in more than 30 years appeared to have delivered his bald head on a plate. But we had all reckoned without the intervention of that master of the U-turn Silvio Berlusconi. Quicker than you could say Bunga Bunga, a compromise deal had been struck.
Fiorentina v Verona, September 1999. With Gabriel Batistuta set to return to Florence to be inducted into the Italian football Hall of Fame today and then watch the Viola face Hellas, it only seemed right to post this tribute.
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, 9 January 2005
Inter: Toldo; J Zanetti, Cordoba, Materazzi, Favalli; Emre (83 Karagounis), C Zanetti (64 Martins), Cambiasso, Stankovic; Adriano (77 Recoba), Vieri. Coach: Mancini.
Sampdoria: Antonioli; C Zenoni, Castellini, Falcone (59 Pavan), Pisano; Diana, Palombo, Volpi, Tonetto; Flachi (90 Carrozzieri), Rossini (73 Kutuzov). Coach: Novellino.
Scorers: 44 Tonetto (S), 83 Kutusov (S), 88 Martins (I), 91 Vieri (I), 93 Recoba (I).
The Story: Trailing 2-0 with just a couple of minutes left to play, the Nerazzurri stage one of the most amazing comebacks in Serie A history with three goals in a little over five minutes to turn the match on its head.
The Star: Alvaro Recoba - He had 15 minutes to make an impact and he crammed in the match-winning goal, an assist and hit the post. He was clearly in a hurry. 8/10. La Gazzetta dello Sport.
We played perfectly until Martins scored, then something incredible happened. It was entirely our fault that we lost - we had the game already won. They only played for six minutes - unfortunately that was all they needed. - Walter Novellino.
This game was a great advert for football and Inter in particular. Anyone who left the stadium when Samp went 2-0 up made a mistake. - Massimo Moratti.
The Standings: Juventus 43; Milan 39; Udinese 34; Inter 30; Sampdoria 27.
The Chart Song: Mio Fratello Che Guardi Il Mondo - Ivano Fossati (Number 13 in Italian Hit Parade).
In The News: A smoking ban comes into force at midnight in restaurants and bars across Italy.
On TV: Luciano Moggi to appear in Controcampo to protest at Juve’s treatment by TV action replay analysts.
Image via Stadiogoal.com
Alberto Malesani is not a man to keep his feelings to himself. When it comes to celebrating a victory, he has plenty of Serie A history. But few games gave him more pleasure than the first ever Verona derby in Italy’s highest division.
The backstory, as almost everyone knows by now, centred on a traditional British summertime seaside mode of transport - the donkey. Hellas fans reckoned those creatures would have to take to the air before city rivals Chievo reached the top flight. When they did so, they adopted the Flying Donkey as their nickname to mock their cousins.
So to say there was eager anticipation for the clash in Verona in November 2001 would be something of an understatement. With Verona the home side, the Bentegodi was resplendent in blue and gold for the game. To add a little extra flavour, newly-promoted Chievo had made such an impact in Serie A that they actually had the audacity to be sitting top of the table. Hellas were no slouches either in a very respectable midtable position.
It is easy to forget just how impressive Gigi Delneri’s 4-4-2 formation was. With its flying wide men, it shook up the established order from day one in the division. They quickly became the team most of the big guns wanted to avoid, such was their lack of respect for reputations. Newly promoted sides in Italy were simply not supposed to behave in such an enterprising manner.
Malesani’s Verona were a nice outfit too, especially the attacking options for his 3-4-3 line-up. Mauro Camoranesi and Adrian Mutu were a sumptuous duo to have in operation on either side of a central striker. A few eyebrows might be raised in hindsight that he opted for Lichtenstein’s finest Mario Frick to start the Verona derby ahead of a future goalscoring legend like Alberto Gilardino.
The game was played out under driving rain and with the kind of passion and commitment you would expect of such a historic match. It was Delneri’s side who called the shots in the opening period with a goal disallowed before the man known then as Eriberto - but Luciano nowadays - broke the deadlock shortly after the half-hour mark. When ex-Verona man Eugenio Corini converted a penalty a few minutes later, it looked like the donkeys would be taking to the skies once more.
But Verona got a penalty lifeline before the break which Massimo Oddo duly converted. It was just enough encouragement to get the home team flying out the box in the second half. Mutu - just back from disappointing defeat in a World Cup qualifier play-off with his country - was in particularly fine form.
It would be Chievo striker Massimo Marazzina who played a key role when he got himself sent off for a pointless tackle from behind on the hour mark. Then, as if the self harm had not gone far enough, Salvatore Lanna thumped one past his own keeper, Cristiano Lupatelli. To complete an improbable comeback, Camoranesi beat a poor offside trap to knock home the winner. The Hellas fans, and Malesani, could not contain their joy.
His celebrations under the Curva are the stuff of Bentegodi legend. He jumped with joy, he waved in delight and then threw off his training coat in an impromptu striptease. Not everyone thought his actions were appropriate.
“I don’t care what people think,” he retorted. “I wanted to behave like that and I did. I am happy for this victory. I don’t give a s**t if I have only won the Verona derby and not the Scudetto. Maybe people will say that’s why I can’t manage a big team.
“But I do this once every three years while others talk nonsense every weekend and nobody criticises them. Sport is there to be enjoyed - it is joy and happiness. There were people in the crowd who live near my home, who I could go and have a glass of wine with in an osteria. I wanted to share my great satisfaction.”
"Even if I had won I wouldn’t have gone to my fans to celebrate," said a glum Delneri. “What matters is that my team fought hard and I don’t think they come out of this game devalued. I don’t talk about referee decisions but there is no doubt sometimes in football it is episodes which decide a game. There are a few things I found hard to swallow, but I’ll keep them to myself."
He was right that his team still had plenty to give in its debut Serie A campaign. They slipped off top spot but still managed an impressive fifth place finish which took them into the UEFA Cup. They also got revenge in the return fixture later in the season.
Indeed, it was the Flying Donkeys who had the last laugh overall. Hellas slumped from a strong start and tumbled down the table to end up in the last relegation spot alongside Venezia, Fiorentina and Lecce. Malesani might have regretted the exuberance of his celebrations at winning Serie A’s first Veronese derby. Then again, looking back at what he said at the time, you have to reckon he wouldn’t change a single thing about the day.
Verona: Ferron; Cannavaro, Zanchi, Gonnella (65 Salvetti); Oddo, Italiano, Colucci, Seric; Camoranesi (87 Dossena), Frick (77 Gilardino), Mutu.
Chievo: Lupatelli; Foglio, Legrottaglie, D’Anna, Lanna; Eriberto (65 Mayele), Perrotta, Corini, Manfredini (82 Beghetto); Corradi (73 Cossato), Marazzina.
Goals: 33 Eriberto, 37 Corini (pen), 40 Oddo (pen), 70 Lanna (og), 72 Camoranesi.
A chance to chat about Fiorentina, Fiorentina and more Fiorentina. A Scotland meets America mash-up on Mario Gomez, keeping Cuadrado, new stadium plans and everything else Viola.
Italy 2 Austria 2, Stadio Olimpico, 20 November 1971. A snowy day in Rome by the looks and goals from Pierino Prati and Giancarlo “Picchio” De Sisti ensure a draw for the Azzurri.
My father had put his jacket on to leave. He was at the door, ready to turn his back on a calamitous end to Italy’s World Cup. But then Roberto Baggio intervened.
Even now the goal has an improbable look. Find it again on YouTube and it tracks a path which could make a believer of the most ardent agnostic. The shot finds the narrowest of gaps on its journey to the net. It threads its way between a defender’s heel and an attacker’s foot, past a goalkeeper’s glove and sneaks inside the post. It’s a strike which increases your incredulity every time you watch it.
Italy, as improbable as it seemed, were back on level terms with Nigeria. And my father had to take his jacket back off.
Italy v Germany tonight. Any excuse to relive 1982 World Cup final.
Vincenzo Montella rolled his eyes. Then, slowly, he broke into a wide smile. And, finally, a sort of puzzled, questioning look overtook his features as if to ask: “What exactly do YOU think I should do?”.
He was responding to a query he has had fired at him a few times over the last season or so. The essence of it is as follows: “Shouldn’t you try to teach this Fiorentina team to take its chances and learn to kill off an opponent?”. The underlying message, of course, is that until he does, the Viola will never actually achieve anything.
Bella ma sprecona is an epithet plenty of Italian teams have had to live with - beautiful but wasteful. It conveys a Serie A obsession with getting results at all costs and a suspicion of pretty passing patterns without any end product. Think of Catenaccio as its polar opposite - ugly but successful.
These two schools of thought have been at the heart of Calcio for as long as I can remember. There were pundits (and managers) who viewed Roberto Baggio as too much of a luxury for a truly dominant team to permit itself. As if a flourish of flamboyance could only be permitted if it produced a goal. No need for the gravy, just give us the dry roast beef.
But Montella’s answer to his inquisitors threw such perceptions back in their faces. “What if,” he asked (I am paraphrasing a little here), “by asking this team to be more clinical, you actually destroyed it?”. He seemed to suggest that it would be almost impossible to get this team to cut out the backheels, flicks and tricks without changing its nature entirely. Without them, he reasoned, they would cease to be Fiorentina - at least as we have come to know them under his command.
Is it really necessary for Juan Cuadrado to learn to tackle back? Should we ask David Pizarro to whack the ball clear instead of indulging in one more dribble in front of his own goal? Can you really expect Borja Valero to doggedly keep possession when one last defence-splitting pass is beckoning?
Of course, the detractors are right. Such footballing finery does nothing to provide the bread and butter of the game - points and victories. The Viola have been victims to regular late comebacks in matches where they should have been out of sight. They have also outplayed opponents on a regular basis only to find themselves facing the full-time whistle with a losing scoreline. But does that mean they should boot their beliefs into the Curva Fiesole?
I don’t, in truth, know the answer and I’m not sure Fiorentina’s manager does either. But he did suggest that it would be counter-productive to try to ask his team to ditch all their dribbling and neat inter-passing play. Take away the fun and, on balance, you would lose more good things than bad.
Yes, maybe a more practical approach could have provided points from games where they slipped away. But, at the same time, it might not have allowed for some amazing revivals (Juventus, Chievo and Pandurii spring to mind this season - in no particular order). Only by doing the somewhat unexpected were they able to turn those matches on their head. A supposed weakness turned out to be a strength.
It is a battle which is likely to continue when Serie A resumes after the international break. The return of Mario Gomez should give the Tuscan side a more clear target for all their attractive build-up play. But there are still so many players in the team in love with the feeling of a ball at their feet that you get the impression they will never shake a little bit of self-indulgence. So don’t expect them to run down the clock expertly and “put a game to sleep” any time soon. For, if they learn to do that, it would hardly feel like watching Fiorentina at all.