Archive for March 3rd, 2008

Napoli 1-0 Inter Milan: Serie A Leaders Fall, Roma & Liverpool Chuckle (Serie A Matchday 26)

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Napoli vs. Inter (Serie A)

Serie AIt finally happened. After 31 straight matches without a loss, Inter were eventually forced raise the white flag on Sunday, courtesy of a near-perfect Napoli team galvanized by the atmosphere of their home stadium. Seems hard to believe doesn’t it? The Nerazzurri had not lost a game since April 18th 2007 (a 3-1 home loss at the hands of Roma) but from then on, Mancini’s boys had accumulated a record of 23 wins and 8 draws, going on to win the 15th Scudetto of their history. Until today, it seemed as if nº16 was pretty much a done deal, but Napoli had other plans.

Serie A Matchday 26 - Napoli 1-0 Inter

Roberto Mancini’s ride at the San Paolo was bumpy to say the least, but not only because Inter lost. It’s how they lost which is rather worrisome for the Nerazzurri manager: the first half of tonight’s match showcased the worst kind of Inter anyone has seen this year, crumbling under the speed of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, and incredibly struggling with their tactical disposition. To be fair, I should also state that nearly half of the Inter team was unavailable due to injury (it’s especially annoying when that list includes two of this season’s best, Zlatan and Cruz), but frankly that is no breaking news material for the Nerazzurri: Mancini never had his full roster available this year, but whoever stepped on the field always did their best. Until tonight.

Marcelo Zalayeta celebrates the early Napoli leadNapoli’s approach to the game was litterally lightning-fast, the first goal of the match arriving no later than minute 6. Reviewing video evidence of all of Julio Cesar’s matches this season, one would find it fairly hard to spot defensive mistakes made by the Brazilian goalie (such is their rarity). This one however, will likely feature nº1 in the list: from a long ball forward by Walter Gargano, Lavezzi went on to pressure the Inter keeper, forcing him to… attempt a dangerous dribble, and gift the ball to Marcelo Zalayeta for an empty net chip???!! Wait did he really do that… this Julio Cesar? Hard to believe, right? 1-0 Napoli.

From then on, the Neapolitans simply continued to build on some already very solid foundations: a strong midfield supporting the speedy incursions of their pacey players (Lavezzi and Hamsik in particular). Julio Cesar was once again called into action through the efforts of Paolo Cannavaro (header) and an almost Materazzi-own goal, but this time showed why he’s been getting the start over Francesco Toldo the past three years. Cristian Chivu gets fouled and is forced to leave the field (shoulder injury)Then, the selfishness of Zalayeta spared Inter from conceding goal nº2, as the Uruguyan striker put his shot wide from an angled position (with Lavezzi completely unmarked in the center). Inter during all this? Except for a David Suazo attempt in minute 19, they were absent. Nowhere to be seen. 1-0 Napoli at the break.

After the restart, the situation got from bad to worse for the Nerazzurri. Cristian Chivu had to leave the field, adding his name to the already crowded Inter injury list, and forced Mancini to modify his tactics yet again. On came Hernan Crespo taking the striker spot with Suazo, thereby forcing Balotelli to drop back one notch. The new entry did little to modify the pace of the game however, and Napoli simply resumed their assault onto their opponents’ net. Hamsik put Julio Cesar to work again and forced him to another great save, while Lavezzi continued his speedster race with the Inter defense, almost covering the entire length of the field. The Argentine “Pocho” did miss a few passes when it counted, but still managed to set up Walter Gargano right in front of the net in minute 73. The Napoli midfielder took the ball past Julio Cesar, who brought him down inside the box. Penalty.

Zalayeta shoots from the spot, but Julio Cesar keeps the Inter in the game.Thankfully for Inter, their keeper had apparently made his mission tonight to compensate for his 6th minute mistake, and sprung to save Zalayeta’s shot from 12 yards to keep Inter in the game. With 15 minutes to go, this game was all but for Napoli to lose. Could the Nerazzurri pull yet another last-minute come-back, as they did against Roma only 4 days ago? Crespo and Suazo sure tried, but the Neapolitan defense was just too damn good today.

As the ref called full time, an explosion of joy invaded the stadium and signalled Inter’s fourth winless match. I was bitching about Juve in my previous post, but the Nerazzurri are in no better shape lately (except for the tiny fact they are still perched at nº1 spot, albeit with a a now-reduced-to-6-points advantage over Roma). Is it safe to say the Scudetto race has just been re-opened? Time will tell, or rather, Napoli: guess which team the San Paolo will host next Sunday? I’ll give you a hint: they wear a bright yellow/red jersey…


 S.S.C. Napoli
[Match Highlights]
F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 3’ Zalayeta (N)
NAPOLI (3-5-2): Gianello – Santacroce, P.Cannavaro, Contini – Mannini (82’ Grava), Blasi, Gargano, Hamsik (93’ Bogliacino), Savini – Lavezzi, Zalayeta. (bench: Navarro, Rullo, Montervino, Dalla Bona, Calaiò). Coach: Reja.
INTER (4-4-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Rivas, Materazzi, Chivu (dal 6′ s.t. Crespo) – Figo (78’ Jiménez), Vieira, Pelé, Maniche (46’ J.Zanetti) – Suazo, Balotelli. (bench: Toldo, Fatic, Stankovic, Solari). Coach: Mancini.