You know, if there is someone who I’ve always had the utmost respect for, throughout all these winless years (let’s face it, until 2006 Inter Milan hadn’t won squat for the past two decades, save for a measley UEFA Cup in 1998), it’s Javier Zanetti. He’s been the heart of the Nerazzurri ever since he transferred from Banfield in 1995, and Wednesday he had the occasion to prove it yet again, by saving his team from their first Serie A loss of the season. Not only that, but losing against Roma would have meant the onset of a mini-crisis among Inter ranks, especially after the draw vs. Sampdoria and the Liverpool catastrophe.
Speaking of Roma though, yesterday night proved one thing: 17 matches after the Supercoppa Italiana and 10 months after their 3-1 away victory at Giuseppe Meazza, if there’s one team Inter have a tough time tackling it’s the Giallorossi.
Tactically, Roma manager Luciano Spalletti did not want to take any risks with Amantino Mançini (the game against Real Madrid being way too important to miss), and instead fielded Mirko Vucinic in the unusual role of left winger. Rodrigo Taddei occupied the opposite side, while Francesco Totti was once again selected as the lone striker. On the other end, holiday time came back amongst Inter ranks, with Roberto Mancini getting some inspiration from their AC cousins and adopting a 4-3-2-1 Xmas tree formation. Hernan Crespo (out of the Nerazzurri closet because of injuries to Zlatan and Cruz) was confirmed as the one-man striking force, with Dejan Stankovic and Luis Figo providing support.
Speaking of the Argentine, after 18 minutes of play Crespo nearly sent the 48,717 San Siro supporters into rapture: connecting with a Patrick Vieira cross from the right wing, his acrobatic bicycle kick slammed onto the inside part of Doni’s post before rebounding wide. A close shave for Roma, but an isolated case of danger in the first half: the Giallorossi were defending well, ready to hit back on fast & lethal counter-attacks. Unfortunately, most of these were being poorly productive… until minute 38 that is.
With the game stalled, delivery for the Giallorossi people came once again through their iconic captain, Francesco Totti. Mind you, I say “again” when the last goal Totti scored was over 40 days ago, but all streaks (good or bad) must come to an end some day. With Vucinic in possession, the Montenegrin striker executed a few feints before sliding the ball to Max Tonetto, ready for an express delivery to Totti inside the Inter box. “Er (ex) Pupone” didn’t need an invitation to strike, and armed a precise instep volley inside the left post, where Julio Cesar couldn’t reach. 1-0 Roma, and goal nº 201 for ‘Il Capitano’. All the more reason to celebrate for Totti, who with 387 Roma matches has overtaken another Giallorossi legend, Giacomo Losi.
For Roberto Mancini, trailing by one at home was a rather uneasy situation. The Inter coach immediately took counter-measures by modifying his tactical set-up: one substitute after the break, two more at the hour of play, but not before Nicolas Burdisso had the chance to draw level shortly before the half ended (his header on a Figo cross from the right wing was over the bar). The Nerazzurri thus switched to a 4-3-3 formation, with David Suazo and Mario Balotelli partnering with Crespo up front, and supported by Pelé in midfield.
The biggest problem for Inter however, wasn’t so much Taddei’s near-goal experience in minutes 48 and 60, but rather the twisted ankle of Maxwell in minute 64: with R.Mancini having made his 3 substitutions already, the Nerazzurri were now left playing the remaining half-hour with one man down. Is it just me, or does Inter have a psychological block with finishing their games with 11 men this year?
With the numerical advantage, Roma’s chances to put the nail in the coffin multiplied, reaching the count of three from minutes 67 to 75. First, a delightful Totti backheel opened space for Simone Perrotta on the right wing, immediately squaring it for Alberto Aquilani (on for Pizarro) on the edge of the box: the midfielder’s effort was saved by Julio Cesar. Then a few minutes later, Vucinic turned into assistman and served first Perrotta, then Aquilani, for some close-range attempts which were somehow kept out of the net by the Inter defense. The iron was hot for the Giallorossi though, and if they kept striking it, it was only a matter of time before they put the victory on ice.
Unfortunately for Roma, fate had other plans for them, and in particular, for Philippe Mexès. In less than 2 minutes, the French defender managed the impossible feat of receiving two back-to-back yellows, one more stupid than the next. First, he re-entered the field without the referee’s permission after receiving medical help (or rather, he cut across the field at the corner flag, in order to get back towards the sideline). Then, a reckless challenge (from behind) on Crespo cost him his second yellow, and re-established numerical equilibrium for Inter. Were the yellow cards harsh? Maybe. Should have Mexès known better? Surely. Will people be debating about this for the next week to come? Undoubtedly.
Regardless, the momentum was now back on the Nerazzurri’s side: Crespo went to work by forcing Doni to the save of the night (his redirected header on Maicon’s cross being miraculously parried away by the Roma keeper), but it was only the prologue to the inevitable: a corner-kick by Chivu was headed clear by Juan, by only as far as the edge of the box and a certain Mr. Zanetti: the Argentine midfielder controlled the ball before slamming a powerful half-volley into the bottom-left corner of Doni. 1-1.
Just like when the Scudetto race seemed to have been revived, the Inter captain put it back into the ground…
|GOALSCORERS: 38′ Totti (R), 88′ J.Zanetti (I)|
|INTER (4-3-2-1): Julio Cesar — Maicon, Burdisso, Chivu, Maxwell — J.Zanetti, Cambiasso (57′ Balotelli), Vieira — Stankovic (46′ Suazo), Figo (64′ Pelé) — Crespo. (bench: Toldo, Materazzi, Rivas, Maniche). Coach: R.Mancini|
|ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni — Cassetti, Mexès, Ferrari, Tonetto — D.Pizarro (60′ Aquilani), De Rossi — Taddei (84′ Juan), Perrotta, Vucinic (77′ Giuly) — Totti. (bench: Julio Sergio, Antunes, Brighi, Mançini). Coach: Spalletti.|
Marco Pantanella is the Chief Editor of Soccerlens and the Author & Editor of the mCalcio blog