In an exciting Roma-Inter Coppa Italia final (reaching its 4th match-up in consecutive years), the Giallorossi grabbed their season consolation prize. I say “bittersweet” in the title and that deserves some explanation. Sweet firstly, because beating one’s big rivals is always great, especially after a season-long head-to-head race in the Serie A and especially if those rivals are Inter. And bitter because… well there’s only so much a Coppa Italia win can compensate. As every Serie A fan will testify, winning the Scudetto’s a whole other ballpark and for Roma, that will have to wait another year.
Saturday’s evening began with the national anthem, in honour of Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano who was present in the stands. The notes of the “Inno di Mameli” could hardly be heard however, as the Stadio Olimpico cauldron (Roma’s Curva Sud especially, timidly imitated by the few Nerazzurri supporters) roamed with Giallorossi cheers.
Attention then shifted to the pitch, with Roma showing their winning intentions straight away. Simone Perrotta forced Nicolas Burdisso to clear the ball off the line (though there was a clear offside call), then tried a fierce shot on the volley (saved). He was shortly imitated by Mirko Vucinic, who just failed to clear the wall from a free-kick: all in the first 6 minutes. Inter reacted according to the script: they made every effort to slow down the pace, working hard and trying long balls towards David Suazo and Mario Balotelli, the Nerazzurri “speed tandem” in absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (once again injured). The pair managed to get a few shots on goal, and was supported in their efforts by Maxwell, who forced Doni into a low save in minute 13.
As for Roma, Spalletti’s men were also forced (surprisingly) to abandon their usual playing style at times, resorting to long balls towards lone target man Vucinic. Despite this tactical change chances for the Giallorossi flourished, as in the 15th minute mark when Ludovic Giuly shot high over the bar from an excellent position inside the area. As the minutes passed, Inter defended well, with Burdisso in great form, and slowly they managed to gain ground. Mid-way through the first half came a good header from Balotelli which grazed the crossbar, then Maxwell’s great shot that Doni was forced to deflect into corner.
At this point, though, Roma woke up again: partly because these two chances had rung the alarm bell, and partly because Inter were now more open and the Giallorossi were able to play their more attractive game (rapid counterattacks coupled with short passing on the ground). New chances thus developed for Vucinic and Perrotta, peaking with Philippe Mexes‘s goal in minute 35: the French center-back burst forward like a true striker to meet David Pizarro’s corner, and knocked the ball in with a powerful right-footed volley. 1-0 Roma.
After conceding their goal, the Inter defense disintegrated: no longer impeccable as it had been at the start (partly thanks to the movement of Vucinic and Perrotta who often swapped positions, supported by the effective Pizarro-Aquilani axis), the Nerazzurri risked going down by two as Mexès once again came close to net with a narrowly wide header. The half ended with the Giallorossi deservedly ahead by one goal.
In the second period, Roma picked up where they had left off: attacking forward. Perrotta tried his luck by foot and by header, followed by Vucinic (shooting wide with Aquilani free in space). On the other side, Inter coach Roberto Mancini decided to insert Pelé on in place of Dejan Stankovic (seemingly very edgy). The substitution didn’t exactly have the desired effect: Vucinic immediately made amends for his missed pass to Aquilani, and exchanged passes with Simone Perrotta on the edge of the Inter box, allowing the Roma midfielder to tap into the empty net 8 minutes after the restart. 2-0 Roma.
Just 6 minutes later however, Pelé got to work. The Nerazzurro prodigy showed what he was made of, and executed a spectacular shot from outside the area that left Roma keeper Doni rooted to the spot. 2-1.
Now Inter believed. Mancini pumped up the quality of his team by inserting Luis Jimenez, and Burdisso – doing no less than Mexès – showed off with a diving header that only the woodwork denied (Doni was beatedn). For Roma the game had changed: Spalletti’s men could no longer simply enjoy themselves: it was time to produce hard work and endurance.
The remaining 20 minutes were all nerves, yellow cards, cramps and injuries: football in its spectacular sense vanished. Injury time extended to 6 minutes, a while during which Burdisso once again grabbed the spotlight, with a dangerous volley on the turn (wide). The fact that shooting tasks always seemed to fall to him was however quite indicative: Inter forwards were no longer in the game. Eventually, the referee called full time thus allowing the Coppa Italia to stay in Rome. Passion and hard work was the succesful recipe for the Giallorossi on Saturday, something that Roma’s nº10 (a certain Francesco Totti, who came out onto the pitch to celebrate and hoist the cup) is no stranger to.
|GOALSCORERS: 35’ Mexès (R), 53’ Perrotta (R), 59’ Pelé (I)|
|ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni – Cassetti, Juan, Mexès, Tonetto – De Rossi, D.Pizarro – Giuly (65’ Cicinho), Aquilani (91’ Panucci), Perrotta (74’ Brighi) – Vucinic. (bench: Curci, Antunes, M.Esposito, Mançini). Coach: Spalletti.|
|INTER (4-1-4-1): Toldo – Maicon, Burdisso, Chivu, Maxwell – J.Zanetti (89’ Crespo) – Balotelli, Vieira, Cesar (61’ Jiménez), Stankovic (46’ Pelé) – Suazo. (bench: Julio Cesar, Solari, Maniche, Fatic). Coach: R.Mancini.|