104 posts tagged history
104 posts tagged history
Few fans present in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris had seen such a result before. It had been more than three decades since their favourites had managed to win a home Serie A match against Inter. But, in May 1991, Genoa ended that long-running hoodoo in swashbuckling style.
It was a case of the upstart side against the established elite. Just a couple of seasons earlier, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Inter side with its colony of German internationals (they already had Lothar Matthaus and Andy Brehme and would add Jurgen Klinsmann later) had won the Scudetto with a record-breaking points total. At the same time, the boys from the Marassi had been scrapping their way out of Serie B.
By 1991, however, there was a case for saying Serie A was about as wide open as it has ever been. Maradona’s Napoli were reigning champions, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan had been conquering Europe, Sampdoria were a major force with Vialli and Mancini. Sides like Parma and Torino, too, had serious European ambitions. It was a cut-throat time for Calcio.
Inter had given it their best shot to have a crack at the title, standing toe-to-toe with Samp for much of the season. But the round of matches before their trip to Genoa had seen them lose 2-0 to Doria, effectively ending their Scudetto aspirations. They also had the distraction of an upcoming return leg of their UEFA Cup final with Roma. With Osvaldo Bagnoli’s men determined to grab a European place of their own, there was plenty of incentive for victory. Few could have predicted just how emphatic it would turn out to be.
Trapattoni was unable or unwilling to risk a full strength team for the match. Stalwart defender Beppe Bergomi, aerial target man Aldo Serena and German full-back Andy Brehme were all missing for the match. And things would only get worse as the game progressed.
A knock to Beppe Baresi forced him to leave the fray too and be replaced by Paolo Stringara. Still the visitors’ defence held strong for most of the first half, with most of the danger to Walter Zenga’s goal coming from free-kicks by lethal Brazilian Branco. Eventually, however, they were undone by two of Genoa’s midfield motor-men.
Gennaro Ruotolo picked up the ball and ran on to a return pass from Mario Bortolazzi to slice open the Inter back line. He produced a sweet, low finish to break the deadlock in the 38th minute. It was a vital turn of events which the boys in blue and black never looked like turning round.
The home side looked the more hungry and it was to be little-and-large strike duo of Czech Tomas Skuhravy and Uruguayan Pato Aguilera who completed the rout. In the 76th minute it was a drifting cross from the South American which his European counterpart looped over Zenga with a perfect header. Then, late in the game, it was Skuhravy who went flying in the penalty box with Aguilera duly converting the spot kick.
Post-match, Trapattoni looked disappointed but not too downhearted. He knew his club had other priorities for the season and were playing a side which had more reason to push for the points.
“We were up against an opponent who gave us nothing,” he said. “We had some key players missing, even if that’s no excuse. But Bergomi, Serena and Brehme are not the kind of players you can replace easily and some of the players coming in were not in top condition. By the end, a few of our players looked tired too.”
“The level of motivation was different,” agreed Genoa’s towering skipper Gianluca Signorini. “For us, playing Inter is always an extra boost and our concentration was total. We played a perfect game today.” It is sad to think that a little more than a decade after celebrating such a great season, their influential captain would succumb to Lou Gehrig’s disease aged just 42.
Genoa Coach Bagnoli reckoned he had got his tactics about right. “We knew Inter were strong - although without Serena they lost something at free-kicks,” he said. “But with Fausto Pizzi in the team we thought they would try to outmanoeuvre us.
“But the moment we got the ball we had to break quickly,” he added. “We could not allow them to break with the kind of players they have like Nicola Berti, Lothar Matthaus and the likes. We were very concentrated, we were in good form and we got the first goal which helped us out too.”
The result would help to clinch historic UEFA Cup qualification for Genoa at the end of the season while Inter would go into the same competition as holders after seeing off Roma. The Nerazzurri’s defence of that crown would not go particularly well with early elimination to Boavista. The Rossoblu, however, went all the way to the semi-final before missing out to Ajax who would also conquer Torino in the final.
As for the jinx-breaking victory over Inter, it did not really herald a golden age at home to the Milanese giants for the Grifone. They have won a couple more clashes - in 1993 and 1994 - but since then they have suffered four defeats and a draw in the fixture. If past history is anything to go by, they might have to wait until 2027 for another home win to come along.
Read more classic Serie A games in 20 Great Italian Games.
In a long and glorious career which brought about every honour in the game, Dino Zoff has few regrets. But one of his hardest defeats to take was a Turin derby which his legendary Juventus side lost in the blinking of an eye. Needless to say, it is a match which has entered Granata folklore.
Back in the spring of 1983 - as so often in the history of Italian football - there was no team tougher than the Bianconeri. Their core was formed by a huge chunk of the Azzurri side which had won the World Cup in Spain a year earlier. And to top it off they had superstars like the exquisite Michel Platini and that Polish purveyor of searing pace, Zibi Boniek.
With six games left in the campaign La Vecchia Signora was still harbouring hopes of yet another Scudetto as she was within striking distance of league-leading Roma. But her city rivals were breathing down her neck with European football on their mind. There is no such thing as an inconsequential Derby della Mole, but this one packed a punch more powerful than Primo Carnera.
It was the 127th encounter between the two sides with the old Stadio Comunale a riot of noise and fireworks. It was a Toro home game and their fans had faith in their youthful favourites. The wind would be knocked out of them by a defensive blunder within the first 15 minutes.
Operating along the Platini-Boniek axis, Juve sliced their cousins open on the left flank. However, it looked like the danger had passed when an innocuous ball from the former Widzew Lodz forward fell to the feet of Michel van de Korput. However, the Dutchman dallied and then played a suicide ball towards Giuliano Terraneo in the home goal. It was like dropping your wallet in front of an expert pickpocket and Paolo Rossi duly nipped in to open the scoring.
Eugenio Bersellini’s men were struggling to get a foothold and they trudged off at half-time like a team finding it impossible to figure out a way to break their opponents down. “We gifted them a goal so we’ll try to get it back in the second half,” said influential midfielder Beppe Dossena. “All our tactics have gone out the window now, but we’ll try to win this game.”
If they did come out with greater resolve it melted away midway through the second half. This time it was Roberto Bettega who sent Boniek clear to spread panic in the Toro rearguard. Skipper Renato Zaccarelli lunged in as the forward cut back inside the box and even the home support could not dispute the penalty award.
Le Roi stepped up to take it but, for once, proved fallible. He appeared a little too nonchalant in his approach and Terraneo was able to make a sprawling save. Much good it did him, however, as the Frenchman was quick to make amends for his error and reacted swiftly to scoop home the rebound and extend Juve’s lead.
“We conceded a second goal and that put us in enormous trouble,” recalled Zaccarelli. “With the quality of the team you were up against, you had to feel a bit discouraged.”
“To come from two goals behind against that Juve team was practically impossible,” echoed Terraneo. “Unless something out of the ordinary happens.”
And then, incredibly, it did.
First a Roberto Galbiati cross was met by Dossena to give the trailing team a little hope. Then Paolo Beruatto was the provider as Alessandro Bonesso nodded home. Finally, van de Korput made amends for his earlier bungle by crossing in a ball which was thumped home with a lovely volley by the appropriately-monickered Fortunato Torrisi. Incredibly, less than four minutes had passed between the first Torino goal and the last.
“It was like taking a first punch in the boxing ring,” explained Juve defender Sergio Brio. “You are stunned and then you are knocked out by the second punch. That was the classic knockout blow.”
“It happened so quickly that you asked yourself - what just happened?” admitted Zaccarelli. “But a characteristic of Toro is never to give up.”
Dossena, one of the goal heroes, claimed his coach had forecast the turnaround. “During the week Bersellini told us that Juve usually slow up in the second half,” he explained. “So he tried to dose out our efforts. The plan was to keep them under control in the first half and increase our effort gradually during the second. That’s what we did, and it worked out.”
“Three goals in five minutes is unheard of,” raged Juve supremo Giampiero Boniperti. “They must have forgotten that last year we came from two goals behind to beat Torino, which shows you have to concentrate all the way through the derby. Anyone listening on the radio must have thought the commentator had made a mistake because Juve, with the players we have and the experience they have got, can’t get sliced apart by Toro like that.”
The defensive dissection they had suffered proved fatal to Juve’s title dream. They tried to recover from the stunning defeat but had to accept second place behind Nils Liedholm’s Giallorossi. It was to be the precursor to a disappointing end to the campaign as Giovanni Trapattoni’s men went on to lose the European Cup FInal to Hamburg. A comeback triumph in the two-legged Coppa Italia final with Verona (they lost the away leg 2-0 but won the return 3-0 in extra time) would provide some consolation.
As for the victors, they had clearly given their all. In the five remaining games of the season they gathered just a single point and finished in eighth place, well short of Europe. It might not have been the conclusion they had hoped for but few fans were overly concerned. They were still too busy checking in disbelief that the events they witnessed on their home ground against their most bitter rivals had actually taken place.
The last time Torino beat Fiorentina in Serie A in Florence, the Granata were reigning champions. This is the meeting prior to that, during Toro’s title winning surge in the 1975/76 campaign. It was their first win away to the Viola in the top flight in more than 20 years.
It was a game which would become, in the space of a few years, a Scudetto classic. But, back in April 1986, the teams involved were still under construction. What magnificent edifices Diego Maradona’s Napoli and Silvio Berlusconi’s Milan would ultimately become.
This springtime clash was one of the first games for the Rossoneri under new ownership. The media mogul had only just taken over the club from the debt-ridden reign of Giuseppe Farina. He had promised to build them into the greatest side in the world but, in the meantime, he brought dancing girls, a marching band and a Formula One racing car as part of the pre-match entertainment.
Napoli, for their part, looked a lot more like the finished article. Three points clear of their opponents in third place they were, nonetheless, a fair distance adrift of Juventus and Roma who were locked in a tussle for the title. Still, the Azzurri travelled to the San Siro with a justifiable degree of confidence.
That would only be boosted by a total emergency in the home defence. Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti were both suspended while Filippo Galli was ruled out with injury. It meant ex-Roma legend Agostino Di Bartolomei was expected to play as a makeshift sweeper to try to shore up the back line.
“The game with Napoli will be decisive to keep us in line for a UEFA Cup place,” said Rossonero boss and former playing hero Nils Liedholm. “It is not a position I would have expected us to be in at the start of the season but we must try to keep a hold of it.
Image via magliarossonera.it
“But if we miss out I could not criticise my players because they have already had an amazing season,” he added.
One man particularly under pressure was goalkeeper Giuliano Terraneo, whose errors had been blamed for recent defeats by Inter and Roma. There was also talk, which proved to be true, that he would move on at the end of the season.
“My mistakes against Roma and Inter were not decisive,” he insisted. “I just had some uncertainty and I take responsibility for that. But at my age (he was 32 at the time), I don’t think I have to prove anything to anyone.”
The squad selection emergency prompted Liedholm to go for all out attack with a team featuring Mark Hateley, Paolo Rossi, Pietro Virdis and future San Marino international Marco Macina. The midfield was patrolled by Ray Wilkins, giving a distinctly English accent to the side. It proved to be an imbalanced formation which Napoli quickly swept aside.
Ottavio Bianchi already had the backbone of what would be a team which would win the title the following year. Maradona pulled the strings and ended up “enchanting” the San Siro with his play. Liedholm’s plans to try to play on the attack were in tatters after less than half an hour.
Bruno Giordano was first off the mark. He sped through a motorway up the middle of the Milan defence to roll the ball past Terraneo. The space being afforded the Napoli attackers was a major concern to the home support.
Then it was time for the a bit of Diego magic. Faced with a pack of Milan defenders on the edge of the box he produced a little shimmy to work a bit of space. Then, with minimum backlift, he stabbed a shot between them and past the sprawling Rossoneri goalkeeper. It would have been goal-of-a-lifetime stuff for many, but for Maradona it was run-of-the-mill.
It was enough to persuade Liedholm that his tactical efforts had failed and he made a switch before half time. Macina was sacrificed to let jobbing defender Carmelo Mancuso try to shore things up at the back. It worked, to some extent at least, and Milan had two shouts for a penalty - one for a tug on Hateley, another for handball - before half-time.
In the second half, the visitors appeared to relax a bit too much and the home side finally put Claudio Garella in the Napoli goal to the test. He was found wanting from a low-drive of a free-kick on the hour mark struck by Di Bartolomei. He may have seen the ball late but his howls at his defenders suggested he knew he could have done better and was trying to shift the blame.
The netminder more than made up for it after that, mind you. A string of fine saves ensured Napoli came away with a precious win which is their last Serie A league triumph against Milan in the San Siro. They would finish an impressive third while the Rossoneri folded to seventh and out of the European spots.
“We got things wrong at the start when we were piled up in the opposition box,” said Liedholm. “I sent four forwards out but they were supposed to take turns to work back into midfield but Napoli got the lead before we had time to sort things out. That, for me, is why we lost but I don’t think we deserved to - they shot twice and scored twice, while we created at least ten good chances.”
“There were three penalties for us,” lamented Hateley. “But the referee gave none of them. That is football I guess, even if we did miss a few chances when we didn’t take advantage of good passes.”
As for Diego, he was beaming post-match. “I said we would win in San Siro,” he purred. “This success crowns our season which sees us finish third and in the UEFA zone. We have achieved the club’s goals. Now to aim for the Scudetto, we need to strengthen the squad.”
He was to get his wish, more or less. Fernando De Napoli and Andrea Carnevale brought the salto di qualita’ - leap of quality - needed to secure the league title - and Coppa Italia - the following year. In the process, Maradona’s revered status in the city was secured. Not that it was ever in much doubt.
As for the Rossoneri, there was a revolution on the horizon. Arrigo Sacchi and the Dutch masters were set to arrive soon and transform their fortunes from midtable strugglers to probably the greatest team on the planet. And that would produce some epic clashes with the boys from the San Paolo in the years to come. For much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, their encounters in Campania and Lombardy were some of the most memorable matches in the European game.
I still look back and wonder what, exactly, he was thinking. Franco Baresi, one of the greatest defenders in the history of Italian and, therefore, world football had decided to play volleyball on the edge of his penalty box. His use of the hand was so blatant it seemed to take everyone, even the match officials, by surprise.
Spectators, at least those of a blue tinge, blinked in disbelief and those in front of a television awaited a replay. The slow-motion images only confirmed the incredible piece of action they thought they had witnessed. Il Capitano had used his famous linesman-guiding arm to slap away a through ball which had been looping over his head. A game which had seemed to be finally under control was in danger of slipping out of hand once again. Malta had been given and incredible lifeline.
What followed was one of the lowest points of the Milan legend’s 81-cap international career. For the one and only time in his 12 years of representing La Nazionale he was shown a red card. The referee then pointed to the penalty spot as well although there was some dubiety as to whether the offence had actually occurred inside the box or not.
Suddenly, the game in Malta in December 1992 was back in the balance. The Azzurri had been sluggish throughout and were scarcely worth the two goal lead they had secured. The first full qualification campaign of the Arrigo Sacchi era looked like the wheels might be falling off.
To put it in context, the disjointed showing in Malta was really nothing new. The battle to reach USA ‘94 had reached its third outing and the Italians had yet to show any hint of form. In their opening game it needed two get-out-of-jail late goals from Roberto Baggio and Stefano Eranio to salvage a draw at home to Switzerland. And there was nothing much to shout about at the goalless game with Scotland at Ibrox which followed. A trip to take on one of European football’s lesser lights was supposed to be a chance to rebuild the confidence so dented by failure to make Euro ‘92.
So Sacchi put out a strong line-up at the Ta’ Qali Stadium. Sampdoria’s Gianluca Pagliuca in goal was behind a back four of Milan stalwarts Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Baresi and Parma’s Alberto Di Chiara. There was more Rossonero in the midfield with Alberigo Evani, Demetrio Albertini, Roberto Donadoni and Stefano Eranio involved. Up front two of the summer’s big acquisitions, Luca Vialli who had quit Sampdoria for Juventus and Foggia to Lazio mover Beppe Signori tried to unlock a stubborn home defence.
It took them an hour to break the deadlock and by that stage Inter’s Alessandro Bianchi and another Milan man, Marco Simone, had joined the fray. The half-hearted way Vialli celebrated poking home an Evani cross underlined how poor a display it had been up until then. “Not before time,” observed Bruno Pizzul in his match commentary - or words to that effect. “We have struggled for a while.”
The second goal a few minutes later was a much more pleasing affair. Bianchi sent a long ball through to Signori and he chipped a lovely shot home. That should have been the end of the story. Instead, Baresi produced his moment of madness to put a hard-earned lead at risk. If Malta could convert the penalty they would have more than 20 minutes to try to find an equaliser against 10 men.
Italy fans had their heads in their hands for what looked like another calamitous outing under Sacchi but Pagliuca in goals had other ideas. He stayed on his feet and seemed to stare down Malta’s spot-kick taker Kris Laferla. It was enough to see him strike his shot pretty much straight at the Doria netminder and the visitors’ two goal lead remained intact.
It felt more than a little fortunate at the time as the home team had played with plenty of enterprise up to that point. They continued to push on looking for a goal which might reopen the game and, eventually, they got their reward. Some neat interplay on the right hand side saw Carmel Busuttil break through and square a ball to Martin Gregory in front of goal. He could not miss and did a little forward roll in celebration of his historic strike. There were still a few minutes left to level the scores.
Italy just clung on and it kick-started their qualification form. They would slowly start to move up their group and ended up winning it ahead of Switzerland, Portugal and Scotland to book a place in the United States. Malta, for their part, managed to avoid bottom spot thanks to a home draw and rare away victory over Estonia. Incredibly, they would only score three goals in their 10 group games but two of them would come against the Azzurri.
Baresi, of course, went on to have one final tilt at a World Cup which ended on penalties in Pasadena. His record-breaking recovery from injury to play the final with Brazil was not rewarded and he hung up his international boots after just one more appearance. His time with his country brought him far fewer honours than his club career but he was nonetheless recognised as one of the greatest interpreters of the central defensive role in the history of the game. But whenever Italy face Malta he probably still remembers his crazy split-second reflex action in the Ta’ Qali Stadium.
They were the kind of players who could dance around defenders. If the battering ram of Gabriel Batistuta let Fiorentina down they turned to their mesmerising feet. One May day in Rome, Luis “Lulu” Oliveira, Manuel Rui Costa and Edmundo ran riot.
In truth, that Lazio against Fiorentina clash in 1998 was all about motivation. The Viola needed the win to clinch a place in the following season’s UEFA Cup, the Biancocelesti had already switched off for the season. It showed in their display.
Sven Eriksson’s men had been heavily involved on a number of fronts. They won the Coppa Italia in late April, defeating Milan in the two-legged final. But they were humbled by the other side of the city, Inter, in the UEFA Cup final in Paris. To ask them to raise their game for the visit of Giovanni Trapattoni’s side was almost impossible. And they singularly failed to do so.
Lazio thought they might have had a penalty in the opening exchanges but, after that, the Tuscan side took control. A typically crunching midfield tackle from Sandro Cois sent the Belgian-Brazilian striker Oliveira into the clear. He opened his stance perfectly to spin a shot past Luca Marchegiani from wide on the left of the goal. The game was almost over as a contest already.
Oliveira (pictured above) turned provider in the 24th minute when he once again skipped away on the left. He swung in an inviting cross which Edmundo had no bother slamming home. O Animal spun away in celebration as if dancing at the carnival in Rio.
Pavel Nedved tried to rouse the home side with a cracking free kick which had Francesco Toldo beaten but also drifted past the post. It would be as close as Lazio would get to reopening the game. Batigol soon slammed the shutters in their face.
Giuseppe Favalli lost a high, bouncing ball in the sunlight and the Argentinian punished him severely. He did what he always did and powered a low, unstoppable shot goalwards. Any hope of a comeback had long since disappeared for the Roman side.
Indeed, it was only a self-inflicted wound which gave them any consolation. A looping cross from Nedved was met in powerful fashion by Michele Serena. His header gave his own goalkeeper no chance and it made the scoreline a more respectable 3-1.
The second half saw Gigi Casiraghi given his marching orders for complaining to the ref and the game began to drift away. But there was still time for a masterclass in style - and who else could provide it but the Viola’s Portuguese ace? Rui Costa did not score as many goals as he should have but, when he did, they were usually pretty memorable. This time he taunted and teased Alessandro Grandoni before hitting home a sweet long-range effort. It was the icing on the cake for the Florentine outfit.
“I am sorry, but I hope the fans remember all the good things we have done up until a few months ago,” said Lazio boss Eriksson.
“I’ll be honest, I am ashamed,” added defender Paolo Negro. “We did not go out there to deliberately lose four goals. We started off quite well but after that I don’t know exactly what happened.”
The game was a disappointing penultimate league fixture in an otherwise impressive season for the Laziali. They would use the campaign as a springboard to win the final edition of the Cup Winners’ Cup the following year and follow it up with a European Super Cup triumph and then the Scudetto in 2000.
Fiorentina, for their part, did not make much of an impact in the UEFA Cup after clinching qualification in Rome. They saw off Hadjuk Split in the first round but a firework which hit a match official in their second round clash with Grasshoppers effectively ended their involvement. The game was being played in Salerno due to a previous ban imposed on the Stadio Franchi in Florence and it later emerged it had been locals rather than Viola fans who had thrown the offending item. Nonetheless, the game was awarded 3-0 to the Swiss side, overturning Fiorentina’s 2-0 lead from the away leg. It was a sorry conclusion to a story which had started with such a rhythmical and impressive display in Rome.
When Juve come to town, you take whatever vantage point you can. In spring 1958 in Naples, they packed behind the goals and onto the balconies of properties overlooking the stadium to get a glimpse of the all-conquering Bianconeri. In the hope, of course, of bringing them down a peg or two.
These were the days when John Charles and Omar Sivori (pictured below with Giampiero Boniperti) - perhaps the oddest couple in calcio history - were at the peak of their powers. The tall, powerful and scrupulously fair Welshman and his more diminutive, skilful and sneaky Argentinian colleague were on their way to amassing 50 league goals between them. But at the old Vomero stadium they still harboured hopes of a home victory.
The reason for Neapolitan optimism was quite simple - they had a pretty decent team of their own. Not, perhaps, on the level of La Vecchia Signora, but a quality outfit nonetheless. And, moreover, they had already defeated the Turin giants on their own turf - the only team to have achieved such a result in Serie A that campaign.
They had a goal machine of their own in the shape of Brazilian Luis Vinicio. Dubbed ‘O lione - the Lion - by his home support he tormented defenders the length and breadth of Italy. He would have a field day against a Bianconero defence which was still a long way from the impenetrable unit that Giovanni Trapattoni would oversee in the 1970s.
The title was already pretty much in the bag for Juve when they travelled south for the clash on 20 April. Ten points clear with six games left to play under the old two points for a win system was an almost unassailable lead. Still, the Partenopei - their nearest rivals along with Padova - hoped to at least delay the Scudetto celebrations.
Those ingredients produced a classic mix. Vinicio opened the scoring as early as the fourth minute. Some good build-up work on the right allowed him to control the ball easily and slam it past visiting netminder Carlo Mattrel. It was the start of a deluge of goals.
The Bianconeri’s response was just a couple of minutes in coming. A seemingly innocuous cross from the right was knocked towards goal by Charles and caused a panic in the home defence. An Elia Greco deflection saw the ball end up in his own net to level the match.
But the huge crowd was not going to settle for a share of the spoils and howled their favourites forward. Some neat interplay saw winger Luigi Brugola break clear of the Juventus defence. Once again, it was a pretty straightforward task for him to nip the ball under the diving goalkeeper.
Vinicio (pictured below) should have stretched that lead early in the second half when he was put clean through on goal but this time Mattrel was quick off his line to deny him. It gave La Vecchia Signora a lifeline she was quick to grab. Gino Stacchini cut in from the right and hammered home a shot from a tight angle to make it 2-2 after less than an hour’s play.
That gave the visitors greater impetus and they tested the home goalkeeper Ottavio Bugatti a couple of times as they pushed for the win. But it would be Napoli who struck next with just 13 minutes left on the clock. Future Scudetto-winning coach with Fiorentina Bruno Pesaola got away on the left and his cross found Vinicio at the back post. He made amends for his earlier error with a sweet finish into the top corner.
It looked like being the winner until a free-kick in the 86th minute was floated into the box by Boniperti. It appeared the Napoli defence had cleared the danger but, instead, Antonio Montico cracked in a shot through a crowd of players which gave Bugatti no chance. It was back to the drawing board for Amedeo Amedei’s side.
But, just like their manager, they had goals in their blood and would send their fans home in delight. Another poor defensive clearance dropped to midfielder Gino Bertucco and he had no hesitation in driving the ball home. The supporters piled up behind the goal went crazy. The final whistle brought a full-scale pitch invasion.
“The most exciting game of the season,” announced one match report of the day. “The championship has not been mathematically decided as many expected it to be. The team which rose to its feet and stopped that happening - in a most determined and surprising manner - was Napoli. Juve did not get their own way because they found somebody able to outplay them. It was, as they say, an explosive match.”
“We were unlucky,” said a disappointed and disgruntled Juventus president Umberto Agnelli. “The final result came about a bit by chance. The last goal, the one which decided the game from Bertucco, came as a result of a free-kick which should not have been given.”
It would only prove to be a minor bump for the boys in black and white on their road towards the Scudetto. They won it with eight points to spare over second-placed Fiorentina. As for the Partenopei, the win did not send them towards the runners-up spot they had hoped for. They managed just one win in their last five fixtures (against Inter) and suffered a couple of heavy hammerings - 7-0 by Udinese and 4-0 at Vicenza - to finish a still-respectable fourth. But one of the undoubted highlights of their campaign was producing one of the best matches of the year when Serie A’s biggest name came visiting.
It was a time when most tales were told in black and white. The fledgling Italian democracy was struggling to find its feet under Alcide De Gasperi. At cinemas, the hot ticket was for Il Mulino del Po based on Riccardo Bacchelli’s epic family saga of the same name. And, in the remote countryside, the bodies left by the Second World War were still being found.
In the football world, Serie A was still coming to terms with the loss of the Grande Torino side at the Superga disaster. It left a power vacuum which a number of sides hoped to fill. That honour went, as it so often has, to Juventus, Inter and Milan.
In the 1949/50 campaign, the 10th week of matches threw up a mouthwatering prospect. A great Bianconero outfit - the one with Giampiero Boniperti, John Hansen, Karl Praest and the likes - was setting a breakneck speed at the top of the table followed by surprise outfit Padova. The Milanese giants were locked together in third place, four points adrift of top spot. The winner of the derby at the San Siro would be making a statement of its intent to target the Scudetto.
Inter were the home side for this league clash and boasted a breathtaking attack. France-born Hungarian Istvan Nyers was a 30-goals-a-season kind of guy. “He had a turn of pace which was deadly,” recalled former team-mate Sergio Brighenti. “It made him unstoppable. He could shoot with either foot, knew where the goal was and had the courage of a lion.” Among his forward colleagues were ex-Roma hero Amedeo Amedei and the Tuscan they nicknamed Veleno (Poison) for his venomous finishes and prickly personality, Benito Lorenzi (pictured below). Their defensive powers, however, were weakened by the loss of a certain Enzo Bearzot to injury a week earlier against Novara.
The Rossoneri responded with a side with even greater goal potential. It boasted three men whose names would eventually be moulded into one famous abbreviation. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm. Gre-No-Li for short.
The Italian league had just confirmed a limit of three foreign players in its sides. The Swedish trio formed Milan’s contingent while Dutchman Faas Wilkes joined Nyers in the Inter starting XI that day. There was no spot for Argentinian Oscar Basso, their third Straniero.
These were days before Catenaccio had raised its head and both sides lined up along the 2-3-2-3 lines of the Metodo system. In a time when foreign coaches were in vogue, Hungarian Lajos Czeizler guided the Rossoneri but the much more Italian man from Massa Giulio Cappelli was in charge at Inter. They dished up what might well have been a tactical expert’s nightmare but proved to be a football fan’s delight.
It was obvious from pretty early on that this would be no ordinary Derby della Madonnina, there would be no cagey exchanges or worrying about keeping things tight at the back. The first goal came in the opening minute and it was Milan who seized the advantage through former Inter man Enrico Candiani. He doubled his personal tally, and the Rossoneri’s lead, before seven minutes had passed.
In the 10th minute, Inter clawed one back through Nyers but it looked like the “visitors” were in outright control when Nordahl and Liedholm extended their lead to 4-1. There were less than 20 minutes on the clock and one of the biggest derby games in Europe looked effectively over as a contest. But these were days of more epic scorelines and the Nerazzurri had an astounding comeback in mind.
It was constructed either side of half-time. In a vital one-two in the space of a minute, Amadei and a Nyers penalty narrowed the gap before the interval. Then, incredibly, Amadei levelled the match five minutes into the second period. It was 4-4 and any outcome looked possible at the final whistle.
The ever-sharp Lorenzi put Inter into the lead for the first time a little shy of the hour mark but Milan showed resilience of their own to hit back immediately through Carlo Annovazzi. It would take just five more minutes for the match to make its final fateful twist. Amedei was the gamewinner as he grabbed his hat-trick to complete an improbable scoreline. Lorenzi danced a provocative dribble as the final whistle blew before kicking the ball into the delighted and still slightly stunned Inter faithful. It remains, not surprisingly, the highest scoreline in a Serie A Milanese derby.
“Was this a good game or a bad game?” asked one match report. “We tried to reach a judgement on that but it was not straightforward. The match had everything - spectacular attacking and defences which collapsed like barriers built from papier-mâché, a team which conceded four goals in a row after building up a three-goal lead and two sides which mixed great play with amateur errors.”
“There was a day, many years ago, when Torino and Inter drew 6-6 but there was a downpour that day and the terrible pitch conditions caused all the problems,” wrote double World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo in his analysis. “Six goals are nice for the Inter attack and five strikes are sweet for the Milan forward line but they are disastrous for the two defences. They are a bit of an indicator of the state of these Milanese sides - they have scored 29 and 25 goals respectively but conceded 16 and 17. The defenders of the city of Milan ruined their reputation on Sunday.”
There was not much time to rest for some of the protagonists. Amedei, Lorenzi and Inter team-mates Osvaldo Fattori and Attilio Giovannini were called up to the Italy training squad for a match with England later in the month along with Annovazzi of Milan. Then there was the little matter of Juventus versus Inter the following weekend.
The Bianconeri would win another humdinger of a clash 3-2 and set sail towards the title. Milan would emerge as their closest rivals but still finished five points adrift in second spot with Inter a further eight points behind in third. The Rossoneri racked up 118 goals that campaign with Nordahl scoring 35 alone. Inter ended up just shy of the century with 99 strikes - 30 of them from Nyers.
Neither side would have to wait long for a title. Milan were crowned champions the following season and Inter secured the Scudetto by 1953. It set a trend for domination which - along with Juve of course - has continued for most of the modern history of the Italian game. And perhaps a little bit of that supremacy had its roots in the lessons learned from the most madcap derby in the city’s history.
It was a midtable encounter with a classy cast. The protagonists were a mix of old glories and stars of the future. And they produced a memorable encounter on the famous San Siro turf in January 1984.
Milan had just returned from their second spell in Serie B in a couple of seasons and were definitely a team still under construction. The Silvio Berlusconi era had not yet begun and the dubious star Straniero of the team was former Watford hitman Luther Blissett. The Englishman would amass just five goals all season.
The visitors, Udinese, had a foreigner with a little more glamour attached. Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, had incredibly been convinced to trade Flamengo for the Friuli in the summer of 1983. He quickly developed an excellent understanding with his World Cup rival of the year before, Franco Causio.
Under Ilario Castagner the Rossoneri had suffered a dreadfully inconsistent start to their season. Their first four home games ended in victory but their first four away matches led to defeat. They started to show a bit of more solid form before Christmas but, even so, they were five points adrift of league-leading Juventus by the time Udinese came to town.
Their visitors came into the game undefeated since the end of November and had just dished out a memorable 4-1 drubbing to Napoli. They sat on the same points as the Milanese giants. A good result could be a turning point for either side.
Things got off to the best possible start for the home team when they benefitted from one of those soft penalties which have never gone out of fashion in Italy. Sergio Battistini took a tumble in the box and Franco Baresi duly stepped up to convert the spot-kick. The Udinese defence looked shaky with the likes of Attilio Tesser and Franco Pancheri missing.
The Rossoneri looked like they had things under control with Mauro Tassotti tracking Zico, Filippo Galli taking care of Pietro Virdis and Alberigo Evani asked to deal with the dribbling skills of Causio. It worked from more than half an hour.
But then Zico decided to wake up from an apparent slumber by popping up on the back post to nod home an equaliser and it was back to square one for Milan. They dealt with the setback well, however, and before half-time midfield man Vinicio Verza swivelled well to drive a low shot past Fabio Brini in the Udinese goal. Few could argue the lead was not deserved.
The second half saw Oscar Damiani come closest to extending the Rossoneri’s lead when he watched a shot ricochet off both posts before being cleared. At the other end, Massimo Mauro should have levelled but blasted over from a good position. It was a miss he would later regret.
With less than 10 minutes to play, Milan made what should have been the winning move. A header back across goal was met bravely by Blissett as he risked clattering into a goalpost. That should have been game, set and match for the boys in red and black.
But while they were a young side still looking for its identity, Udinese had some wily old professionals in their ranks. They might have been well shackled for much of the match but they suddenly came to life in the closing stages. Their collective quality was too much for Milan to handle.
It took something special to give Enzo Ferrari’s men a lifeline. A neat one-two on the edge of the Milanese penalty area saw a ball chipped into the box in Zico’s direction. The ball took a slight deflection off a home defender but the Brazilian adjusted brilliantly to swing an overhead kick past a helpless Ottorino Piotti. It was Zico’s third two-goal game since arriving in Italy.
There were about three minutes to play when an improbable comeback was completed. Causio held off his marker on the right hand side of the penalty area and turned his man expertly before drilling a shot home. A little forward roll and leap in the air told you how much it meant to the former Juve man. The raincoat-sporting Castagner was raging on the sidelines.
“We made a few mistakes on all three goals,” said a disconsolate Tassotti. “They are chronic errors, we have been making them since last year. People keep saying it is down to inexperience but maybe we will keep committing them as long as we live.”
In truth, he need not have been quite so worried as he would go on to be part of one of the greatest defences Serie A has ever seen. However, that was some way in the future and Milan would finish eighth that year - not bad for a newly promoted side. Greater days were around the corner.
They would not, however, include coach Castagner. He had done a deal to move to city rivals Inter and was relieved of his post before the season came to an end. It did not work out well at the Nerazzurri for the ex-Perugia boss and he slowly slipped down the coaching ranks.
His opposite number, Ferrari, would also move on at the end of the campaign. He tried his luck in Spain, at Real Zaragoza, but like Castagner his managerial career was on the downward path. At least he had this fine display in Milan to look back on.
“I don’t think anyone would have bet a lira on us at 3-1 down,” admitted Causio after that game. “We got it to 3-2 straight away and then our character and experience came through. We showed our so-called ‘attributes’ and we managed to square the match.”
“I feel good now,” beamed Zico. “Plus Ferrari played me in a deeper role where I prefer to play and I have always played there in Brazil. But when I arrived in Udine they asked me to play a bit further forward.”
Whatever position he was put in and no matter how many injuries he suffered, he certainly made an impact. A 19-goal haul saw him finish just behind Juve’s Michel Platini in the Serie A goalscoring charts. It would be the peak of his time in Italy as he struggled for fitness the following year and managed just a handful of goals. But at least Udinese fans had the memory of an outstanding strike at the San Siro before letting him go back to Brazil.
Fiorentina v Sampdoria of yesteryear - a game which finished Giancarlo Antognoni’s season.