Emotions were running high in Italy at the weekend but, for once, it was not just the match officials who were to blame. There was a poignant edge to a number of goals which flew in over another net-bulging weekend. The cheers were mixed with tears right around the peninsula.
There was probably no more touching moment than when David Pizarro thumped home a penalty in Florence. Il Pek leapt in the air and then fell to the ground before being enveloped in a group-hug from his Viola companions. Having just lost his sister to illness, the feelings of joy and sorrow were almost palpable at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Another precious moment came later in the game for the Chilean midfield mastermind, when he was given the captain’s armband as Manuel Pasqual left the pitch. It was another small symbol of the esteem which has quickly built up in his regard since he signed in the summer. The resounding support he received from the fans was clearly appreciated. “It was fantastic,” said Pizarro after the 4-1 victory. “It was a great gift from the fans and the people of Florence.”
At the Juventus Stadium, too, they wanted to remember absent friends. In the middle of the love-in for Antonio Conte’s return to his home bench against Atalanta, their thoughts flew to a couple of young men who might even have been part of the Bianconero first team by now. It was six years since teenagers Riccardo Neri and Alessio Ferramosca lost their lives in a tragedy at their Vinovo training complex.
The Turin giants produced a ruthless display in their honour. Mirko Vucinic scored a goal in the opening moments – his first at his home ground in nearly a year – and after that it was pretty much plain-sailing. Andrea Pirlo added a missile-like free-kick and Claudio Marchisio completed the scoring. It ultimately guaranteed Juve the title of Winter Champions as halfway leaders in Serie A – and 80 per cent of the time they reach that goal, they go on to win the title.
“The reception from the fans was beautiful and extraordinary,” said Conte afterwards, clearly revelling being back in the hotseat. “We try to pay them back every Sunday with our performances. I was moved, too, by the tribute for Ale and Ricky, two young Bianconeri we lost a few years ago. We are still close to their families because the loss of a son is a terrible thing.”
There were similar thoughts running through the mind of Antonio Nocerino after he opened the scoring in Milan’s 4-1 triumph against Pescara. The visitors contributed a couple of own goals to the Rossoneri’s cause, confirming the feeling that the tide of fortune has turned in favour of Max Allegri’s men. But their midfielder’s mind was on matters of wider global importance. “I wanted to take the chance to dedicate my goal to the American families of the children killed at school (in Connecticut),” he said. “My thoughts are with them.”
A slight tremor could also be noted in the voice of Bologna skipper Daniele Portanova after he notched the winner in a ding-dong 3-2 triumph over Napoli. He had just returned from a ban for his part in match-betting investigations and could not have hoped for a greater impact. His header silenced the San Paolo.
“I have suffered a lot,” said the big defender. “I dedicated this goal to my family and my good friend Gabriele Bordon.” The latter is the lawyer who has represented him in the fight to clear his name.
There was a lot less sentiment and a lot more fog in Verona, much of it probably produced by a fuming Zdenek Zeman. He felt his Roma side had a couple of good shouts for a penalty in their 1-0 defeat by Chievo while TV replays showed that, through the gloom, Sergio Pellissier’s strike for the home side should have been ruled out for offside. Add to that a playing surface that looked like an uneven, deep-pile carpet sprinkled liberally with sand and you could understand why the Giallorossi left the Veneto under a cloud.
The Flying Donkeys were not the only mid-table side who enjoyed a good weekend as Catania and Parma also secured important victories over Sampdoria and Cagliari respectively. The victory was particularly sweet for the Emilia-Romagna club as it coincided with their 99th birthday celebrations. They had plenty to thank Algerian Ishak Belfodil for as he scored a double, although he is clearly a player who has boss Roberto Donadoni pulling his curly hair out.
“He is a player with talent and quality but he has got a lot to learn,” he said. “As long as he doesn’t rest on his laurels and think that he’s already doing enough, you will hear a lot more about him. It will all depend on his attitude.”
Saturday night’s big match at the Stadio Olimpico proved to be a tense one as both Lazio and Inter knew a victory was vital to their fight at the top end of the table. There was a certain irony in the way that the Roman side finally managed to defeat Andrea Stramaccioni’s men. Having beaten several teams by virtue of their more clinical finishing, it was a deadly Miroslav Klose strike which left the Nerazzurri empty-handed this time around.
Draws between Genoa and Torino and Palermo and Udinese rounded out the weekend results. It was something of a goal glut, with 33 goals across the 10 matches. But some of those strikes, it was quite clear, meant a lot more than others.