Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Pescara is pretty bleak at the best of times, but Friday evening on the eve of Ferragosto – Italy’s most public of holidays when only the lonely, infirmed or dirt poor are left at home - is particularly drab.
The coastal city’s unpretentious but thoroughly functional Stadio Adriatico was the venue for the penultimate stopover in the pre-season phoney war between Inter, Juventus and AC Milan before the real business kicks off next weekend.
Like the surroundings, the TIM Trophy has the desperate air of the tail-end of summer about it – the last bit of messing about before the return to the seriousness of day-to-day life.
The teams were paired for three 45-minute encounters in this triangular kick-about– just enough time for the players to perspire gently and maybe set up a chance or two.
But generally speaking these encounters end goalless and are decided on penalties.
"Is it time for spot-kicks yet?"
Of course, whenever Inter and Juve cross paths there is little time for larking around, and thus was the case on this balmy Friday by the sea.
'Cheery' Ciro Ferrara’s lot lifted the trophy after a 2-0 win over Milan, which says it all about the dismal current state of the Rossoneri: conceding both goals on the cusp of 30 minutes while creating next to nothing going forward.
That was the final match-up of the evening, and by then weariness had set in among one and all.
But the real excitement had been reserved for earlier on, with the event getting off to a cracking start when the old arch-rivals met.
Thiago Motta’s goal looked to have sealed victory for the champions until Marco Materazzi made the slightest contact with Amauri inside the area and the referee invoked the standard 'controversial decision' and pointed for a penalty
Materazzi took the verdict with the all good grace we have come to expect from the tattooed terror through the years, and disgorged a tirade of expletives at the cowing official.
When finally spent of all emotion, the inevitable outcome was that the veteran defender continued his travelling odyssey of collecting red cards at just about every ground in the country.
Jose Mourinho was all restraint as usual: firing off his own haranguing on the ref’s shortcomings.
Why he bothered we will never know, because Julio Cesar made a stunning save from Vincenzo Iaquinta’s spot-kick.
"I'll get it..."
Unfortunately, or fortunately for Juve, in the dying embers of the encounter Nelson Rivas set-up Amauri with a back-pass, and the Brazilian - not known for looking a gift horse in the mouth - netted the equaliser.
Penalties it was then, and the Bianconeri drew first blood thanks to Walter Samuel’s ballooning effort and Davide Santon’s choker.
However, the vanquished did have the opportunity to get all that malice out of their system against Milan in the next game.
Inter had already beaten their city cousins once this summer - in a bashing in Boston - and Leonardo’s lollers rolled over again.
Marco Balotelli scored the only goal of the game, and the teenager also came close with a free-kick which came back off the bar.
Klass-Jan Huntelaar made his debut for Milan, but the Dutch striker received little or no support from Pato or roly-poly Ronaldinho.
Mourinho stormed off at the final whistle, refusing to attend the post-tournament press conference and preferring to sulk on the team coach – a harbinger of things to come one feels.
"Sorry, I'm washing my hair"
So as Juve danced around with the trophy at an hour when most right-minded souls would have gladly swapped the plastic seats for a firm mattress, what can be gleaned on where the title will be heading this year?
Juve still have a lot of work to do if they are to wrest domestic dominance out of Inter’s hands.
Both will be heavyweights going toe-to-toe for the crown, but Mourinho still has that extra clout in every department.
As for Milan, well it is of course too early to consign them to the also-rans.
But for all of Leo’s defiance that he “needs time,” there is such an obvious collective loss of confidence throughout the squad that even a trip to Siena on the first day will fill them with trepidation.
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