Straight from the dark heart of Italy
There were no reports that Andrea Stramaccioni was hit with a stray pizza, much in the manner that Sir Alex Ferguson allegedly suffered when Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-game undefeated league run.
Although it was difficult to digest for Juventus, they demonstrated good grace in public even if it was Inter of all teams that brought their impressive run to an end on Saturday evening.
Juve had started their own 49-match march back in the final match of the 2010-11 season under Antonio Conte’s predecessor Luigi Del Neri, but as they came into the “Derby d’Italia” they still had some work to do to overhaul the all-time record set by AC Milan.
In their 58-game run between May 1991 and March 1993, Fabio Capello’s ‘degli Invicibili’ not only remained undefeated – those who got in their way tended to get flattened. However, coming into this game there was the feeling that the Juventus machine was running out of steam.
In midweek they had only just crept past Bologna thanks to a late goal from Paul Pogba; the previous Sunday they had come away from Catania with a narrow win on the back of a controversial offside decision against the home side.
No match outside the Rome derby draws as much acrimony as Juventus vs Inter – the feuding northern rivals with the biggest support in the country. It is the one that both clubs want to win more than their respective city derbies; one where the perceived injustices of old have never healed.
Replays of Ronaldo being bundled over by Mark Iuliano in the 1998 pivotal title-deciding meeting in Turin, which became known to all Nerazzurri as the “great robbery”, were a staple of TV news programmes in the days building up to the game.
The last thing this latest match in the Juventus Stadium needed was any more controversy; of course, it arrived, although no one would have expected it after just 18 seconds.
Straight from the kick-off, Kwadwo Asamoah ran on to Mirko Vucinic's through-ball and sent his shot into the path of Arturo Vidal, who tapped home. TV replays showed that Asamoah was offside when he collected Vucinic's pass, although at the time the Inter players were too stunned to appeal.
For around 10 minutes it looked as if Juve were going to do to the Milanese what they had done to AS Roma: obliterate any resistance. They could have gone a further two goals up with Andrea Pirlo picking out Claudio Marchisio inside the area but goalkeeper Samir Handanovic did well to block on both occasions.
Inter finally came up for air and had a goal disallowed when Rodrigo Palacio headed home Esteban Cambiasso's free-kick and then Antonio Cassano went close with a curling effort.
By this time, referee Paolo Tagliavento had already booked Juve's Stephan Lichtsteiner. So when the same player scythed down Palacio just before the break there were worried faces among the home support, but the referee – at whom Jose Mourinho once made the handcuff gesture – elected not to produce a second yellow.
Lichtsteiner may not have been ejected by the referee but his day was done: Conte’s assistant Angelo Alessio immediately withdrew the hot-headed full-back for Martin Caceras. As the teams left the pitch at half-time, the referee and his officials were visibly shaken as the Inter players – and Antonio Cassano in particular – voiced a volley of protests.
It was Inter that needed the break, if only to allow Stramaccioni to get across to his players that he had fielded a front-three of Cassano, Palacio and Diego Milito for a reason: to rattle the Juve backline.
In the pre-game press conference, Stramaccioni had refused to reveal what formation he would play, his feigned indecisiveness leading the press to believe that he would pack the midfield with five players and go toe-to-toe with the champions from a defensive standpoint.
During the frantic first 45 minutes it looked as that the three-man attack was only an act of folly which would lead to ruin, but Inter had hung in there and Stramaccioni knew that his side, who after all were on a six-game unbeaten run, had the flair to unlock the home defence.
And so it proved. With two decisions falling in their favour, the Juve players were wary of committing any errors that might turn the tide in the opposite direction – but that is what they did.
A hesitant home side were definitely playing within themselves when on the hour-mark Claudio Marchisio tugged Milito’s shirt as the Argentine was about to shoot from just inside the area.
Tagliavento made sure he received an affirmative from his assistants before pointing to the spot and suddenly the air went out of a stadium that had been rocking up until then as Milito buried the spot-kick.
The old campaigners, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel, were locked into what was needed from them as the challenges flew in but it was those in the black and white shirt who were late to every ball and started to pay for their edginess with yellow cards.
Stramaccioni could feel that the opposition midfield was struggling and sent on Fredy Guarin for a tiring Cassano, who had been the least effective of the Inter front three – and it was the substitute who raced through the wide open spaces in the centre of the pitch to hit a fierce shot which Gigi Buffon could only parry into the patch of the “Prince” Milito.
The citadel had been breached and the citizens in virtual surrender when Palacio put the matter beyond doubt after some excellent work from the tireless Yuto Nagatomo.
Zanetti is three years older than Stramaccioni but the pair were like teenagers enjoying their first night on the town as they danced and embraced on the touchline at the final whistle. By this time large swathes of the stadium were deserted as the unthinkable had happened and Juve’s greatest rival had ruined the party.
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