It finally happened. After 31 straight matches without a loss, Inter were eventually forced raise the white flag on Sunday, courtesy of a near-perfect Napoli team galvanized by the atmosphere of their home stadium. Seems hard to believe doesn’t it? The Nerazzurri had not lost a game since April 18th 2007 (a 3-1 home loss at the hands of Roma) but from then on, Mancini’s boys had accumulated a record of 23 wins and 8 draws, going on to win the 15th Scudetto of their history. Until today, it seemed as if nº16 was pretty much a done deal, but Napoli had other plans.
Meanwhile, things have gone from bad to worse at Juve: after losing against Reggina and tying the important derby vs. Torino, the Bianconeri suffered a come-from-behind victory at the hands of archrivals Fiorentina.
Roberto Mancini’s ride at the San Paolo was bumpy to say the least, but not only because Inter lost. It’s how they lost which is rather worrisome for the Nerazzurri manager: the first half of tonight’s match showcased the worst kind of Inter anyone has seen this year, crumbling under the speed of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, and incredibly struggling with their tactical disposition. To be fair, I should also state that nearly half of the Inter team was unavailable due to injury (it’s especially annoying when that list includes two of this season’s best, Zlatan and Cruz), but frankly that is no breaking news material for the Nerazzurri: Mancini never had his full roster available this year, but whoever stepped on the field always did their best. Until tonight.
Napoli’s approach to the game was litterally lightning-fast, the first goal of the match arriving no later than minute 6. Reviewing video evidence of all of Julio Cesar’s matches this season, one would find it fairly hard to spot defensive mistakes made by the Brazilian goalie (such is their rarity). This one however, will likely feature nº1 in the list: from a long ball forward by Walter Gargano, Lavezzi went on to pressure the Inter keeper, forcing him to… attempt a dangerous dribble, and gift the ball to Marcelo Zalayeta for an empty net chip???!! Wait did he really do that… this Julio Cesar? Hard to believe, right? 1-0 Napoli.
From then on, the Neapolitans simply continued to build on some already very solid foundations: a strong midfield supporting the speedy incursions of their pacey players (Lavezzi and Hamsik in particular). Julio Cesar was once again called into action through the efforts of Paolo Cannavaro (header) and an almost Materazzi-own goal, but this time showed why he’s been getting the start over Francesco Toldo the past three years. Then, the selfishness of Zalayeta spared Inter from conceding goal nº2, as the Uruguyan striker put his shot wide from an angled position (with Lavezzi completely unmarked in the center). Inter during all this? Except for a David Suazo attempt in minute 19, they were absent. Nowhere to be seen. 1-0 Napoli at the break.
After the restart, the situation got from bad to worse for the Nerazzurri. Cristian Chivu had to leave the field, adding his name to the already crowded Inter injury list, and forced Mancini to modify his tactics yet again. On came Hernan Crespo taking the striker spot with Suazo, thereby forcing Balotelli to drop back one notch. The new entry did little to modify the pace of the game however, and Napoli simply resumed their assault onto their opponents’ net. Hamsik put Julio Cesar to work again and forced him to another great save, while Lavezzi continued his speedster race with the Inter defense, almost covering the entire length of the field. The Argentine “Pocho” did miss a few passes when it counted, but still managed to set up Walter Gargano right in front of the net in minute 73. The Napoli midfielder took the ball past Julio Cesar, who brought him down inside the box. Penalty.
Thankfully for Inter, their keeper had apparently made his mission tonight to compensate for his 6th minute mistake, and sprung to save Zalayeta’s shot from 12 yards to keep Inter in the game. With 15 minutes to go, this game was all but for Napoli to lose. Could the Nerazzurri pull yet another last-minute come-back, as they did against Roma only 4 days ago? Crespo and Suazo sure tried, but the Neapolitan defense was just too damn good today.
As the ref called full time, an explosion of joy invaded the stadium and signalled Inter’s fourth winless match. I was bitching about Juve in my previous post, but the Nerazzurri are in no better shape lately (except for the tiny fact they are still perched at nº1 spot, albeit with a a now-reduced-to-6-points advantage over Roma). Is it safe to say the Scudetto race has just been re-opened? Time will tell, or rather, Napoli: guess which team the San Paolo will host next Sunday? I’ll give you a hint: they wear a bright yellow/red jersey…
There are many ways I could start this game report. I could say that the last time Fiorentina won on Juventus soil was over twenty years ago, when Roby Baggio was still wearing the Viola shirt. I could also say that, compared to 1994 (when Juve came back from a 0-2 scoreline to tie the game, and then win it with a marvelous Del Piero volley), this time it was Fiorentina coming back from behind and beating the Bianconeri 3-2. I could even praise Cesare Prandelli who (unlike Ranieri) got his substitutions spot on today, with Papa Waigo turning scorer and provider and Osvaldo clinching the win. I could say all that.
But I will not. As a Juve fan, I am super pissed our team obtained only 1 point in the last 3 games… as a Juve fan, I am pissed at the substitutions the manager made today… and as a Juve fan, I am pissed at the final result. But the show must go on, so let’s get this over with.
The start of this match was pretty much to the advantage of the visitors, with Zebina and Molinaro having a lot of trouble with the Viola 3-man attacking formation. In particular, the added contribution of Martin Jorgensen really gave Fiorentina the extra edge up front, and it was no coincidence to see the Dane involved in La Viola’s first goal. unable to create space on the wings, and the absence of Pavel Nedved, the incumbent task of creating magic was left to Alessandro Del Piero. Even he however, was not being very fortunate (before the Viola opener, his great assist delivery for Trezeguet had been headed over the bar by the Frenchman). Meanwhile, Fiorentina continued to push and getting close to the 2-0 tally: Riccardo Montolivo put Buffon’s reflexes to work, and forced the Azzurri nº1 to deflect the ball onto the post.
Unexpectedly, during Juve’s toughest moment of the match, the Bianconeri pulled level. Following a corner-kick, the Fiorentina keeper missed his clearance, the ball stayed in the box eventually rebounding to Momo Sissoko. The Malian midfielder attempted a bicycle kick (seems to be his specialty this month), but this time instead of hitting an opponent in the shoulder, he struck the ball and managed to send it out of Frey’s reach. 1-1 in minute 28, and so it remained until the break.
In the second period, the home team decided to be a little more creative: Zebina and Molinaro were now giving their support on the wings, and what do you know? The goal came precisely from an accurate cross of the Italian wing-back. The recipient: Mauro Camoranesi, ready to slam a powerful volley from close-range onto Frey’s first post. 2-1 Juve in minute 57.
This is when the substitution carousel begun. Prandelli substituted Ujfalusi with Pablo Osvaldo (instructing Jorgensen to shift into right-back position), then put on Papa Waigo for Santana. In counterpart, Ranieri decided to play it safe and remove both Camoranesi and Del Piero, for the more defensive (and fresh) Antonio Nocerino and Vincenzo Iaquinta. See, in my opinion doing something like this will always come bite you in the ass later: these defensive substitutions work in the final 10-15 minutes of the match, but if you apply them with over a half hour left on the clock, you are running a big risk if the other team ties.
And so they did. Following an Osvaldo lost ball which ended up playing pinball with the Juve defense, Papa Waigo was left with space inside the box to fake Molinaro, then beat him between his legs into Buffon’s far corner. 2-2. Whopee for the Senegalese player, who scored his second goal in two games, and boo for the Juve backline.
Double boo in fact. In the last minute of stoppage time, when a draw seemed to be the generally accepted result (neither team had shown any significant desire to win it), Fiorentina made their last bet and won big. Another defensive mistake sent Papa Waigo in the clear on the right wing, ready to deliver a hard cross towards Osvaldo in the middle. Diving header (Ã la Batistuta) and 3-2 Fiorentina.
La Viola should be happy: they now are just one point from 3rd spot in the Serie A standings. As for Juve, these last 8 days have probably been their worst of the entire 2007-08 season.
|GOALSCORERS: 18′ Gobbi (F), 29′ Sissoko (J), 57′ Camoranesi (J), 76′ Papa Waigo, 93′ Osvaldo (F).|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon — Zebina, Legrottaglie, Grygera, Molinaro — Camoranesi (66′ Nocerino), Sissoko, C.Zanetti, Palladino — Del Piero (71′ Iaquinta), Trezeguet. (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Stendardo, Salihamidzic, Tiago). Coach: Ranieri.|
|FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey — Ujfalusi (61′ Osvaldo), Kroldrup, Gamberini, Gobbi — Kuzmanovic, Donadel, Montolivo — Santana (66′ Papa Waigo), Pazzini, Jorgensen. (bench: Avramov, Dainelli, Pasqual, Da Costa, Cacia). Coach: Prandelli.|
Marco Pantanella is the Chief Editor of Soccerlens and the Author & Editor of the mCalcio blog.