Like the TLN commentators declared at the end of the game, “what a great hallmark for Serie A soccer”. The much anticipated ‘Derby d’Italia’ ended on a tied 1-1 scoreline, but despite the fairly low goaltotal, the match sure wasn’t devoid of excitement and beautiful plays. These were two teams well in control of their playing style, Inter with their fast-paced short passing game, and Juve with their often lethal wing attacks. What the Nerazzurri put on the table in terms of technical prowess, the Bianconeri equaled with great character. For anyone knowing the ‘Old Lady’, it should come as no surprise that Ranieri’s men never let go during the game, despite conceding the first goal shortly before half-time (courtesy of ‘El Jardinero’ Julio Cruz, once again). Confident with their lead, Inter entrenched themselves behind an iron-tight defense, but in the end the Bianconeri’s efforts were well rewarded with the equalizing goal of Mauro Camoranesi (who had just come on as a substitute). Great stuff from the Stadio Olimpico of Turin.
The tactical formations for both teams left little in the way of surprises: Juventus operated with their usual 4-4-2 line-up, with Cristiano Zanetti and Antonio Nocerino into the heart of the midfield and Nedved/Palladino on the wings (Camoranesi still lacking match fitness). Up front, the task of scoring goals was left to the Del Piero-Trezeguet duo. On the opposite end, plagued-by-injury Inter manned soccer’s most classic formation as well. The absence of Patrick Vieira and Dejan Stankovic (not to mention that of Adriano due to tactical choices) forced Roberto Mancini to field Javier Zanetti in a fairly uncommon central midfielder role, but the Argentine partnered very well with fellow national teammate Esteban Cambiasso. The rest of the Nerazzurri’s offensive duties were put on the shoulders of Figo/Cesar for wing attacks, and Zlatan-Cruz for the finishing touch.
The match began with a high rhythm/fast paced Juventus: the Bianconeri were pressuring the Inter backline quite often, forcing Samuel and Córdoba to make full use of their technical ability in order to pass the ball out of danger. Overall, Inter seemed quite happy in letting Juve dictate the play for the initial minutes, as they kept a tight lock on their box. David Trezeguet was trying his best to make himself available in the final 18, but the Nerazzurri defense was doing their job well. Thus, to find the first real scoring opportunity for the ‘Old Lady’ we had to wait for set pieces, those of Alessandro Del Piero in particular. The Juve captain had two back-to-back chances, the first 5m from the left corner of the box (parried away by Julio Cesar), then another from 25 yards, but his accuracy was off the mark.
At this point Inter realized they were playing a little too lightly, and perhaps allowing the home team’s confidence to grow uncontrolled. It was time to step the foot on the pedal: through on the right wing, Figo cleared some space and sent a strong cross onto the far post, but Cesar missed the winning tap-in by only a few inches. It was only the entree to a very tasty meal though, because minutes later the Nerazzurri transformed into goal their first shot on net (litterally), courtesy once again of Julio Cruz: from an aerial through ball by Cesar, ‘El Jardinero’ lost his markers and perfectly chested the ball forward. Buffon stayed well on his feet to close down the angle, but Cruz’s instep shot managed to find the twine and put the Nerazzurri ahead. 1-0 Inter.
The opening goal for Inter came during the only time (thus far) in which the Juve rearguard had mistimed its positioning. Indeed, up until that point Chiellini & Co. were skilfully keeping a very advanced backline in order to put the Inter strikers offside. Most of the time it worked but on the few times it didn’t, danger came lurking fast towards Buffon. The first mistake had already produced Cruz’s opening goal, and the second one almost made it an Inter double with Ibrahimovic: through on net, the Swedish ex-Bianconero took a little too long to arm his shot, allowing Giorgio Chiellini to get back and neutralize the danger into corner. The half ended with a 1-0 Inter scoreline.
In the 2nd half, Inter started off with a much better control of the ball, in large part because of the inability of Juve’s midfield to produce fluidic transitions. Indeed, many of the Bianconeri’s passes were being intercepted, hitting the iron-tight defense/midfield block Mancini had organized. In fact, most of the time the Bianconeri had possession, as many as 9 Inter players returned to defend, all but Zlatan and Cruz. As a result, once again the first chance of the half came from set plays: 20m out slightly onto the right, Inter’s free-kick was a perfect position for left-footed specialist. In this case, Christian Chivu: Buffon parried away the defender’s shot onto the path of Cambiasso, who applied the finish with an empty net. Alas for Inter, the Argentine was offside.
Following that close shave, the ‘Tinker Man’ decided it was time to make some changes. Out Nedved and Del Piero, in Iaquinta and Camoranesi. On the other end, Mancini replied with Burdisso and Suazo on for Figo and Cruz. In the end though, the moves that would prove most decisive were those of the Juve coach: on one of the first balls that Camoranesi touched, yards of space were created and Iaquinta managed to slip through on the right. The ex-Udinese striker tried to feed the ball to Trezeguet in the center, but as the cross hit Córdoba, it almost fooled his own keeper with a looping ball below the bar. Julio Cesar was vigilant and deflected above the bar.
Juve were pushing more and more trying to obtain the equalizer, and opening themselves up to dangerous counters. On one of those, Ibrahimovic obtained yet another scoring chance exploiting a feed from Suazo, but his powerful shot found Buffon’s hands, and then his rebound was neutralized by the Juve defense. Minutes later, Inter obtained yet another chance as the ball transitioned deep from their half to Cesar onto the left wing, then across the goal for David Suazo, but a miraculous save by Gigi Buffon kept the ball out of the net, and Juve’s hopes alive. And very much alive they would be in the 77th: some beautiful trickery on the left wing by Raffaele Palladino cleared some space for a long cross to the far post. Iaquinta freed himself up, applied a backpass header for Camoranesi at the penalty spot, and the Italo-Argentine applied the half-volley finish. Julio Cesar got a touch, but couldn’t prevent the goal, probably fooled by Walter Samuel’s close-range deflection. 1-1. I’m being fairly partial here, but what an exciting game my friends!!
|GOALSCORERS: 41’ Cruz (I), 77’ Camoranesi (J)|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Grygera (78’ Zebina), Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro – Palladino, Nocerino, C.Zanetti, Nedved (61’ Iaquinta) – Trezeguet, Del Piero (70’ Camoranesi). (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Tiago, Salihamidzic). Coach: Ranieri.|
|INTER (4-4-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon (86’ Dacourt), Cordoba, Samuel, Chivu – Figo (62’ Burdisso), J.Zanetti, Cambiasso, Cesar – Ibrahimovic, Cruz (65’ Suazo). (bench: Orlandoni, Maxwell, Solari, Crespo). Coach: R.Mancini.|
It wasn’t the most spectacular game in the world, but Juve-Inter was a hard-fought game, uncertain, vibrant, with a final 20 minutes of pure adrenaline. Inter took once again on the role of bulldozing juggernaught, solid on its course towards accumulating points. However this time the Nerazzurri didn’t manage to clinch the game when it most counted, and allowed their opponents to eventually grab the equalizer. Mind you, it wasn’t just any opponent: it was Juventus, a team which despite its limited roster following their Serie B adventure, has proven the point that being in the top 4 of Serie A is no coincidence. Juve now occupies 4th rank behind Fiorentina and Roma, but all things considered this match more of a step forward for Ranieri’s team, rather than a step back. I expect Juve to be very much a Scudetto contender during this season.
Edit: Pic of the match, the stare between Giorgio Chiellini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Magical. Special thanks to Will for the screenshot.