Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It was a another topsy-turvy weekend in Serie A. One where nothing seemed to go to plan unless you happened to be Francesco Totti, and which left the race for the league title wide open once again.
Inter were fortunate to leave Brescia on Friday evening with a draw, with Andrea Caracciolo missing a late penalty for the home side - and by Saturday morning the defending champions were beginning to write off their chances of catching city rivals AC Milan at the top of the table.
That was until the league leaders fluffed their lines in the lunch-time kick-off against bottom side Bari, leaving it late to equalise through Antonio Cassano after seeing an irritable Zlatan Ibrahimovic handed a straight red card for a petulant swing on at an opponent.
The repercussions could well be felt at the start of April when the Milanese derby comes around and Ibra is likely to be suspended, with the likelihood being he will face at least a two game ban – although this will no doubt be fiercly contested.
Red cards, rows and rousing finales are all part and parcel of the Rome Derby, where those coming to bury Francesco Totti left the Olympic stadium hailing him once more as the King of Rome.
This was meant to be the moment where Lazio would end their four-game losing streak against their eternal enemy and along the way reaffirm their Champions League credentials as well as end the Giallorossi’s hopes of finishing in the top-four.
The Biancocelesti should have known it would all come to nothing on another sodden afternoon which brought back memories of a similar scenario back in the 1994-95 season, when Lazio were expected to send Roma tumbling towards the relegation zone but instead saw the old enemy ruin their day.
Edy Reja had never looked so bedraggled and shell-shocked when he came out for the post-game press conference to explain how he had failed to live up to his proclamation that “this was our time”.
At 66, the craggy, old coach has been round the block a few times without managing to savour one moment of success against Roma in the derby, while his opposite number Vincenzo Montella – a generation or two younger – once scored four goals in a derby and as a mere novice in the coaching game got his tactics, team selection and substitutions all spot on.
He knew that Lazio would always rise to the bait of Totti dangling out there as a lone striker but he also demonstrated a willingness to back his captain up with not one but two finesse players – in Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menez.
The fact neither had a real impact on the ball was negated by their mere presence keeping the opposing full-backs, Stefan Radu and Stephan Lichtsteiner in check, which meant that Lazio’s midfield had no outlet in wide areas.
However, it was Totti’s gladiatorial battle with just about every player in a sky blue shirt, going mano-a-mano at every turn, that in the end swung the contest in Roma’s favour.
The body count was high, with Stefan Radu and Cristian Ledesma sent off while Reja withdrew his flair players Hernanes and Mauro Zarate for the more prosaic approach of Stefano Mauri and Cristian Brocchi.
By then, the war had been lost as Totti taunted the opposition into rash challenges; the last man standing draped in his “sei sempre unica” (you are always unique) t-shirt – a little love note to his wife but it could easily stand for his performances down through the years in the battle for the Capital.
With Udinese continuing their goalscoring ways in a four-goal blitz at Cagliari and Napoli returning to winning ways at Parma it was a day to forget for Lazio, who not only missed another opportunity to get one over their bitter rivals, but also dropped out of the top four.
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