WOW! What a game at the San Siro Wednesday night!! And to think that this was just a Coppa Italia match (and thus doesn’t completely earn the “Derby d’Italia” tagline, usually given to any Juve-Inter fixture), but boy… the encounters between Nerazzurri and Bianconeri are never completely ordinary are they, and today was no exception. Crazy events started in the first 10 minutes (a Marchionni injury prompting the insertion of Trezeguet and a 3-striker Juve, followed by a Burdisso red card for a last man foul on Del Piero), and ended in the last 10 (two late goals by Juventus to overcome their 0-2 deficit). If the return leg is anything like the final 45 minutes of this one, there won’t be a single yawn at the Stadio Olimpico in two weeks.
At the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza tonight, the Inter supporters had a special welcome in store for their beloved team, with many banners praising the Nerazzurri and thanking them for “a fantastic year 2007″. This according to Gazzetta, was the sign of a very healthy team, confident of their excellent performance in Serie A so far. Yet there remained a nervousness in the players’ minds, as if Juventus, one of the eternal rivals, could somehow spoil the San Siro fest and bring the Nerazzurri march to a brutal halt.
Tactically, both team coaches gave their “reserve” players a small chance to shine, Roberto Mancini by choice (fielding a revamped defensive line with only Marco Materazzi as the usual starter, and a midfield composed of Solari, Maniche, Pelé, and Cesar, in support of Cruz and Crespo), Claudio Ranieri by necessity (Buffon, Nedved, Chiellini, Camoranesi, and Salihamidzic being forced out due to various injuries). Both coaches however had to rapidly re-think their tactics for the evening, because two episodes in the first 10 minutes of the match drastically affected the remaining 80.
In minute 6, Marco Marchionni picked up a knock and was carried off, forcing Ranieri to switch Juve’s initial 4-4-2 line-up to a 4-3-3 (in came Trezeguet to pair up Del Piero and Iaquinta). A few minutes later, enter change nº2: Nicolas Burdisso lost the ball to Del Piero and brought him down close to the box, with the Juve striker clear on goal. For referee Stefano Farina this meant professional foul i.e. a red card for the Inter center-back, thus forcing the Nerazzurri to play the remainder of the match with 10 men. Mancini scratched his head, and decided to drop Cesar into an unusual right-back role, to reform his 4-man defence.
Needless to say the sending off offence was quite a shock to Inter, who were now forced to play a full 80 minutes with a tight lock on their goal, and hope for the best in quick counter-attacks. And surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, given the technical baggage of the Inter players) it worked! Most of the Juve offensives for the first half limited to a David Trezeguet header on an Alessandro Birindelli cross (deflected by Toldo into corner), and a laser shot by Vincenzo Iaquinta from a good free-kick position, also neutralized by the Inter keeper. In fact, Mancini’s team even found the time & space to get close to Juve’s goal, and send shivers down Belardi’s spine with Solari (breakaway on the left wing but inaccurate cross) and Cruz (served by Crespo, but closed down by Grygera before the finish). The half ended 0-0.
At the restart, it didn’t take long for Inter to get ahead and… wait wha? Weren’t they the ones with one man down? WHAT?? They were TWO men down due to temporary injury of Solari????!! Is this for real!?!?!??? Sadly yes. With an excellent assist, the two best players of the match tonight combined to produce the Nerazzurri’s first goal: from Pelé to Julio Cruz, and early header by ‘El Jardinero’ to beat Belardi. 1-0 Inter.
This was really a crappy situation for Juventus (relatively speaking, remember they were still one man up), because now not only were they trailing, but they were forced to deal with the empowered Inter midfield after the substitutions of Solari/Crespo for Cambiasso/J.Zanetti (talk about rock-hard Argentine internationals…). But if you’re a Juve fan reading this, wait it gets worse. From Julio Cruz on the right wing, openining up the play on the left, the ball shifted down to Cesar for a low cross from the opposite wing… back to… Cruz (!), who anticipated Boumsong and scored the 2-0 tally. Unbelievable, but with one man down Inter ruthlessly exploited the two big mistakes of their opponents’ defense, and stabbed their dagger deep into the Juve hearts.
However (and I hate to borrow the old cliché here), Inter should know that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”, especially when you’re playing Juventus. In fact, while the Nerazzurri were on the good end of the equation this week-end (when they came back from behind to win the game vs. Parma), they weren’t going to be so lucky this time. The Nerazzurri have proved time and time again this season that their goalscoring cynicism has no equals, but if there’s one thing Juventus are world-renowned for, it’s that they’re “the team that never gives up”: in true Juve heart, the Bianconeri completely overturned a seemingly desperate situation (with a little help from providence) and fought back to the tie the game in the last quarter.
With Marco Materazzi out of the field (being medicated after a one-on-one collision with Cristiano Zanetti), a Molinaro cross was deflected by Cambiasso straight onto Trezeguet, which provided a perfect assist for Alessandro Del Piero at the center of the box. The left-footed volley of the Juve captain found the twine, and Juve were back in the game. 2-1.
5 minutes later, they were level. With Materazzi now out for good (substituted by Patrick Vieira, another one just back from injury), the Inter defense began showing its leaks, and on Raffaele Palladino’s cross Jean-Alain Boumsong jumped higher than everyone, and slammed his header onto the crossbar past the goal-line. Wait, is that the same Jean-Alain Boumsong who’s 95% certain of leaving for French club Lyon sometime this week? Call it irony, and call it 2-2.
Remained just enough time in the match to see Cruz stamp a shot onto the post (exploiting a Maxwell pass), but the score wouldn’t change anymore tonight. What kind of Juve team will it be next week for the return leg? Probably one without Tiago and the hero of the night Boumsong, and who knows perhaps with a few new faces from the January transfer window (Sissoko? Mellberg?). One thing’s for certain though: it won’t be an ordinary match at the Olimpico, and tonight’s two away goals put Juve at a slight advantage. Only slight.
|GOALSCORERS: 53’, 73’ Cruz (I), 79’ Del Piero (J), 84’ Boumsong (J)|
|INTER (4-4-2): Toldo – Rivas, Burdisso, Materazzi (78’ Vieira), Maxwell – Solari (57’ J.Zanetti), Pelé, Maniche, Cesar – Cruz, Crespo (67’ Cambiasso). (bench: Orlandoni, Córdoba, Jimenez, Balotelli). Coach: Mancini.|
|JUVENTUS(4-4-2): Belardi – Birindelli (68’ Boumsong), Legrottaglie, Grygera, Molinaro – Marchionni (6’ Trezeguet), Nocerino, C.Zanetti, Palladino – Del Piero, Iaquinta. (bench: Vanstrattan, Castiglia, Ariaudo, Tiago, Esposito). Coach: Ranieri.|