Straight from the dark heart of Italy
RESULTS Sat 30 Apr Cesena 1-2 Internazionale; Napoli 1-0 Genoa; Sun 1 May Fiorentina 5-2 Udinese; Milan 1-0 Bologna; Catania 2-0 Cagliari; Chievo 1-0 Lecce; Sampdoria 3-3 Brescia; Bari 2-3 Roma; Parma 3-1 Palermo; Mon 2 May Lazio 0-1 Juventus
The bunting was out, the open-top coach revved and ready to go, the ‘Scudetto Number 18’ T-shirts printed... but, of course, the uninvited cousin turned up to spoil the party.
AC Milan were five minutes away from needing only a draw with Bologna on Sunday to be crowned champions. Then Inter equalised in the 91st minute at Cesena and, revelling in being killjoys, scored the winner four minutes later.
Giampaolo Pazzini, who was only on the pitch because Goran Pandev had to limp off injured, netted both goals to ensure the title would be kept tantalisingly out of the Rossoneri’s grasp for another week, despite their win over the Rossoblu.
Leonardo joked that it had all been planned as such, but there was no sign of Pazzini making an entrance until the ineffectual Pandev was felled 15 minutes from time.
Inter’s victory did at least spare us the sight of Kevin-Prince Boateng carrying out his threat to dress up as Michael Jackson and moonwalk around the San Siro stadium.
The Prince will have to wait a couple of weeks to slip on the glove in Milan, as the champions-elect are at AS Roma on Saturday, where potential title celebrations will be more muted.
But it is at the other end of the table that the real drama was to be found over the weekend.
Six sides, as far up the table as Bologna on 40 points, were scrambling to avoid joining already relegated Bari in Serie B.
At this stage of the season, with nerves frayed and battered from the relegation scrap, mental strength is needed to avoid the drop – so it is no surprise that Sampdoria have continued to live on the edge.
Following the January sale of Antonio Cassano and the aforementioned Pazzini, the Blucerchiati have been in free-fall, winning a grand total of three games. The latest of these was at lowly Bari last week, after the team had been hounded out of Genoa by irate Ultras, who had stoned the team coach on its return from defeat at Milan.
The actual coach, Alberto Cavasin, was then confronted by a group of supporters outside the Bogliasco training ground, forcing him to retreat with threats of physical violence ringing in his ears.
It is no wonder the squad upped sticks and headed off to Rome to prepare for the Bari game, but there was nowhere to hide on Sunday back at the Luigi Ferraris stadium.
Samp had lost their last five home games ahead of the arrival of second-bottom Brescia for what had been inevitably billed as a ìmust-winî game. Ticket prices had been slashed to between five and 10 Euros – not bad value for an afternoon of high drama in the sun.
The crowd, to their credit, did get behind the team even as they fell behind on three occasions before managing to draw 3-3 in stoppage time through Daniele Mannini.
If the draw left Brescia marooned five points from safety, the point did Cavasin’s men little good either. They are just a point ahead of Lecce, still in the relegation zone after losing at Chievo. Samp do, however, hold the advantage in the head-to-head tie-breaker, having won in Salento.
Pazzini also did his old club a favour with his goals at Cesena: the Bianconeri are now only a point in front of Sampdoria. But as fate would have it, Genoa are waiting to inflict a potential coup de grace in the derby next weekend.
Genoa would take great delight in sending their city rivals down, and the bear pit of the Marassi will not be for the faint-hearted.
Elsewhere, Francesco Totti is deserving of congratulations. The Golden Boy moved ahead of Roberto Baggio into fifth place in the all-time Serie A goalscoring charts with two goals at Bari, taking the AS Roma captain’s tally to 206 goals.
Totti donned a T-shirt bearing the inscription ìThe King of Rome is not deadî, and explained that an English-language commentator uttered the words after he had scored the second goal in the derby against Lazio in March.
Well, I guess that is my 15 minutes of fame, although I hope to meet the great man on Saturday after the Milan game, where at least someone will be celebrating.
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