In Italian, there’s an expression that perfectly defines the nature of Inter’s Coppa Italia performance of Wednesday night: “massimo risultato con il minimo sforzo“, which translates to “maximum results with the minimum amount of effort”. Any additional comment would be superfluous.
Ok fine, I’ll tell you just a little bit more. To use the words of Gazzetta (who defined the team as “an expert vulture, awaiting its prey to punish it“), the Nerazzurri played the ‘waiting game’ on Wednesday night. It’s really a fun little game, and it goes something like this: “let your opponents run around the pitch, allow them to keep ball possession & create most of the scoring chances, then rely on them missing those chances and hit them on the counter-attack”. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Delio Rossi wasn’t too amused though, especially since he drew the card “Your 44 year-old goalkeeper has butterfingers, and gifts the opponent a goal. Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200“…
Such a shame too, because the Coppa Italia was originally supposed to Lazio’s “tournament of redemption” (you know, after a kinda crappy season and all). There was little doubt manager Delio Rossi was going for victory tonight, especially because of the highly offensive 4-3-3 starting line-up, featuring the Pandev-Bianchi-Rocchi trio up front. On Inter’s end, Roberto Mancini had to deal with post-Derby della Madonnina repercussions (losing to AC Milan is never an happy event) but decided to rotate his team nonetheless, fielding Francesco Toldo in goal and relying on the youth and energy of Primavera Francesco Bolzoni. The Nerazzurri’s 4-4-1-1 formation included Luis Jimenez operating behind lone striker David Suazo.
During the first half, and serving as a representative of pretty much their entire season, we saw two faces of Inter. In the first 20 minutes, the Nerazzurri appeared lazy, uninspired, and out of gas, which is a face we’ve been seeing more and more often in Serie A after the Winter break. Not even the two woodworks hit by Lazio in the initial minutes (the 2nd minute free-kick post by Cristian Ledesma and the 15th minute strike by Tommaso Rocchi) gave Inter the necessary “wake-up” signal to stick their heads out of the hole. The Biancocelesti were pressuring high up, exerting complete domination on central midfield, and there was little that the inexperienced Bolzoni and Pelé were doing to counteract the situation. The absence of a player like Esteban Cambiasso (on the bench) was all-too-evident…
Eventually, Mancini decided to reposition Javier Zanetti in the center, and things finally started to work out for the Nerazzurri. Their wing distribution became more efficient, Luis Jiménez could operate a little more freely in his offensive playmaker role, and began getting closer to Marco Ballotta’s net. His 39th minute sliding finish, one-on-one with the Lazio keeper (after a great heel set-up by Suazo), was narrowly wide of the post however.
In the second half Lazio continued their offensive efforts, and immediately brought danger close to Toldo’s goal. The Inter defense however kept close guard, and soon the Biancocelesti would be biting their nails for their missed chances. On virtually the first shot on goal of the second period, Inter grabbed the lead: like a speeding bullet, Suazo got through on the right wing and made a low cross for Pelé. The Portuguese U21 international waited for the ball to arrive, and then popped a one-time instepper that finished its course straight into Ballotta’s top-right corner! A great goal and 1-0 Inter.
The goal was a tough slap in the face for Lazio, who up until then had essentially dominated the encounter. On the contrary, galvanized by his team’s lead Mancini switched his formation back to two strikers, inserting Julio Cruz for Bolzoni and re-positioning Jiménez on the right wing. Grabbing back the reins of play wasn’t sufficient for the Inter manager however, who somehow managed to get sent off for dissent just a few minutes later. On the other end, Delio Rossi seemed to maintain faith in his current formation, only replacing Zauri with Aleksandar Kolarov.
As time passed by, Lazio became more and more active in the Inter box (especially through Pandev, Dabo, and Kolarov) but were always a few feet away from hitting the target, and the fact the Nerazzurri coach (Mancini’s second-in-command) had inserted Marco Materazzi and Maicon for Burdisso and Chivu certainly wasn’t helping in making the Inter defense more penetrable. It seems ironic then that during this period, much like what had happened to Mancini a few minutes earlier, the team that seemed to be “in control” of their situation got one player sent off and came dangerously close to finishing the game with 9 men (first a punch by Cruz on Kolarov was punished only with a yellow, then Materazzi received a direct red for an overly mean tackle from behind).
Even more ironic was that despite playing with 10 men, Inter increased their lead to 2-0, putting their qualification on ice. A right-wing cross by Pelé was “intercepted” by Ballotta, but the Lazio keeper ended up colliding with a defender, released the ball, and Julio Cruz simply had to apply the finish into the empty net. 2-0 Inter and game over. This will be the Nerazzurri’s 4th consecutive Coppa Italia final, and considering how close their 16th Scudetto title is, this will also be Mancini’s opportunity to make a double this year. Perhaps over Roma and perhaps as the last trophy as Inter manager, who knows?
|GOALSCORERS: 52’ Pelé (I), 85’ Cruz (I)|
|LAZIO (4-3-3): Ballotta – De Silvestri (87’ Tare), Siviglia, Cribari, Zauri (66’ Kolarov) – Dabo (80’ Mutarelli), Ledesma, Behrami – Pandev, Bianchi, Rocchi (bench: Muslera, Rozehnal, Mauri, Mudingayi). Coach: D.Rossi|
|INTER (4-4-1-1): Toldo – Burdisso (68’ Materazzi), Rivas, Chivu (77’ Maicon), Maxwell – J.Zanetti, Pelé, Bolzoni (59’ Cruz), Cesar – Jiménez – Suazo (bench: Julio Cesar, Siligardi, Cambiasso, Crespo). Coach: R.Mancini|