Straight from the dark heart of Italy
When you're part of the two-man team commentating on Serie A's international TV feed, it's important to give viewers from Adelaide to Anchorage a feel of the build-up to the big game of the week. Stepping out into the piazza in front of Rome’s Termini station on Sunday morning, it looked as if the derby had kicked off – excuse the pun – without us.
The smell of tear gas lingered in the air and council workers were busily patching up damaged shop fronts while battle-weary police glared at groups of tourists eager to take home a photographic memory of a burnt-out car. However, this was not the aftermath of another AS Roma-Lazio dust-up but the remnants of Saturday’s public protests, ostensibly anti-banking but possibly also opportunist.
Being in the capital solely for the love of the beautiful game but as a veteran of many a fraught derby experience, there was a certain amount of trepidation heading along the concourse to the Olympic stadium a few hours before kick-off – after all, Italian police and football fans mix as easily as oil and water.
But in the end the events of the previous day had obviously taken the edge off some of the more unsavoury elements who populate this event. And with city mayor Gianni Alemanno declaring that Rome couldn't afford not to stage the derby despite the forces of law and order being stretched to the limit, it was game on.
The players of both sides certainly reacted in a manner fitting of such a major occasion to produce a stirring and drama-filled encounter. The climax came when Lazio's Miroslav Klose grabbed the winner with 20 seconds of added time remaining to finally halt a five-game losing streak which had haunted the Biancoceleste.
Dear old Edy Reja – who must have long given hope of ever breaking his losing jinx – belied his 66 years and went hurtling down the touchline, closely followed by the man who carries Olimpia the eagle around plus said bird and the rest of the Lazio bench. They led the celebrations in front of the Curva Nord, home to the Lazio hardcore who had directed their much-loved anti-Semitic chants and banners at the Giallorossi followers in the Curva Sud.
The scene of utter desolation at the other end of the ground was mirrored by those in red and yellow on the pitch, who had almost pulled off a courageous draw having played most of the second half a man down after centre-back Simon Kjaer had been shown a straight red for a tug on Christian Brocchi inside the area.
Roma coach Luis Enrique had never witnessed such a spectacle even during his time at Real Madrid and Barcelona and his opening response in the post-game press conference was along the lines of “mamma mia, what a game.”
Every foreigner from Abba to yours truly likes to throw out a mamma mia now and then, but never has it served so well. It summed up an evening on which Hernanes had drawn Lazio level from the spot and Klose and Djibril Cisse had hit the woodwork before the German’s last-gasp finish.
Credit must be given to Enrique for his reaction when Roma went down to 10 men. Rather than remove one of his two front men, he removed midfielder Simone Perrotta – one of only two Roma players to have experienced the derby before, along with Daniele De Rossi (captain for the evening in the absence of Francesco Totti).
He had his reasons: the two derby debutants in attack, Bojan Krkic and Pablo Osvaldo, had been dovetailing so well that the Spanish coach felt the game was still there to be won. Osvaldo had opened the scoring after just four minutes, revealing the Totti-inspired T-shirt slogan “vi ho purgato anche io” ['I’ve purged you too'], and could easily have had two goals to his name before the break.
However, for all the kudos due to the defeated Enrique and his exciting youngsters, the evening belonged to an OAP – and Reja, whom Totti had taunted mercilessly in the week before the game, could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“It was a feeling of liberation,” wheezed the old fella at the final whistle. And the same could be said for the capital, after a weekend in which it had been held hostage to civil disorder ended in a riotous outpouring of joy – for one half of the city, anyway.
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