Straight from the dark heart of Italy
There is always someone out there who is courageous enough to do or say what everyone else is thinking – and Claudio Ranieri was that person on Sunday evening.
It came during the interval of a Rome Derby where it looked as if Roma’s dreams of taking the title race into the final four games of the season were about to come crashing down in the most mundane matter possible, to Lazio of all teams.
With the Giallorossi trailing and having generally been played off the park by their more relaxed rivals, drastic action was needed and that would mean taking two local sons out of the fray.
Neither Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi had covered themselves in the glory, picking up a yellow card apiece and playing in such a reckless way that they were in danger of leaving their team-mates a man or two short long before the final whistle.
As the players returned to the pitch for the second forty-five minutes, Jeremy Menez and Rodrigo Taddei limbered up on the touchline as the captain and vice-captain forlornly took their seats on the bench.
However, for sixty seconds it looked as if Ranieri’s brave decision was set to have the veteran hounded out of his own city on the charge of high treason instead of being putting forward for instant sainthood.
Lazio were already one-nil up and a penalty-kick away from doubling their lead, but Sergio Floccari’s weak effort and Julio Sergio’s knees energised Ranieri’s men who then found faith once more in their ability to dictate the pace of game before hitting the opposition on the quick counter-attack.
Totti in particular had been having one of those derbies where he was living the occasion rather than playing the match; his immobility in the centre of the pitch doing little to lift the team’s general malaise, leaving Luca Toni and Mirko Vucinic as marginal figures.
Conveying the same distain as a Caesar at the Coliseum, the thumbs down gesture at the neighbour’s perilous position just above the relegation trapdoor demonstrated how churlish Er Pupone can still be.
He attempted to justify the gesture by claiming it was a reaction to Roberto Baronio calling him a “has-been” in the previous derby.
What should be a more lingering talking point is the fact that Totti’s absence was not felt and with Menez and Taddei keeping wing-backs Stephan Lichsteiner and Aleksandar Kolarov in check, the encounter was swinging in Roma’s favour.
And so it proved as Taddei drew a foul from Kolarov for the penalty that man-of-the-match Vucinic stroked away and then Menez enticed another rash challenge for the Montenegrin to hit a free-kick of such explosive power that goalkeeper Fernando Muslera was almost knocked over by the back-draft.
If Totti had still been on the pitch then it is doubtful Vucinic would have been anywhere near the ball when either of those pivotal moments arose – and if there is a talismanic figure in Roma’s amazing charge to the top of the table then it is not difficult to see whom it really is.
The capital’s central Piazza Venezia’s was jammed-packed with celebrating fans well into the wee hours of Sunday night for what they hope is a dress-rehearsal in less than a month’s time as the title heads down to the wire.
In theory, Inter have the easier run-in, but they will come up against an Atalanta side next week who will be battling for their lives while Roma take on Sampdoria who now have their sights on maybe just overtaking Milan who they downed on Sunday.
No matter how Jose Mourinho’s team perform, Roma are a point ahead and if they win their last four games then they will be champions.
With their courageous coach’s not tip-toeing around when it comes to making the bold decisions then a Capital celebration could well become a stunning reality.
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