It’s usually wrong to read too much into any individual incident during a football game. The tendency is to charge them with a significance from surrounding events which they simply do not possess. Nonetheless, it was hard not to watch Javier Zanetti being stretchered off in Sicily without feeling it was somehow emblematic of Inter’s season.
The crack in his Achilles tendon felt like the final blow to a campaign which has dive-bombed like a seagull spotting a bag of chips. For fans of the Nerazzurri – and anyone in love with Italian football – it was like finding out one of the Gods was human after all. Only the most callous Calcio-follower would not wish him a swift recovery.
“It is another hard blow for us to take,” admitted Andrea Stramaccioni at a time when the club’s injury bulletin is longer than Antonio Cassano’s list of old flames. “Above all, the value of our captain – at such a difficult time – is incredible.”
It was no surprise his teammates slumped to defeat against a Palermo side which finally seems to have found the stomach for its relegation fight. The three points secured by Josip Ilicic’s latest strike might be vital in safeguarding the survival of the Rosanero. But they also felt like the last rites on Inter’s already ailing European aspirations.
While Massimo Moratti was waving goodbye to continental clashes, Silvio Berlusconi was welcoming them with open arms after an incredible match with Catania. Milan came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down thanks to a Mathieu Flamini strike, a Giampaolo Pazzini brace and, inevitably, a Mario Balotelli penalty. Their determination to make the Champions League looks more ferocious than Super Mario every time a referee’s decision goes against him.
“We had to win this game, we made a few mistakes and lost two stupid goals,” said Balotelli. “But Pazzini came on and did well although we made things difficult for ourselves. I think we can make the Champions League.”
“I am pleased for the team, we played well,” added Max Allegri. “After Fiorentina won it wasn’t easy to win this game with the pressure on us. Third place would be an achievement which looked almost impossible after the first eight games.”
Their astonishing victory was just what the Rossoneri needed after watching Fiorentina briefly pinch their third place with a victory over Sampdoria. It was billed as Delio Rossi versus Adem Ljajic round two as the Coach and player went toe-to-toe for the first time since their rumble in the Viola dugout. With one goal and an assist, it was the Serbian who delivered the knockout blow this time around.
“We didn’t clear things up but I don’t want to talk about it,” said Ljajic. “I have nothing to say, I’d rather talk about the game. We got an important victory in our fight for the Champions League.”
At the top and bottom of the table, it was a case of game almost over. Juve’s late show in the Turin derby put them just one point away from retaining their title. While Pescara’s heavy defeat to Napoli meant one more loss will see them consigned to Serie B next season.
Not that Antonio Conte will be easing up on his Bianconeri after their latest triumph. He promised to keep on their case until the Scudetto is secured. Anyone who knows him would expect nothing less, of course.
The derby itself was marred by pre-match violence but also allegations of racist insults from Toro’s Riccardo Meggiorini towards Juve’s Paul Pogba. The Granata player, however, dismissed such claims. “I insulted him,” he said. “But it was not racist.”
Elsewhere, Roma and Udinese both advanced their prospects of securing European football with victories over Siena and Cagliari respectively. The Giallorossi still have the Coppa Italia Final with their city cousins to look forward to but they would like to finish as high up the table as possible. For Aurelio Andreazzoli, however, there were clearly thoughts of what might have been.
“We have so many regrets that I can’t really enjoy this win,” he admitted. “But we’ve sorted out our League position. Since I came in we have got 21 points in 11 games which is not to be sniffed at.”
The form line has been almost exactly the opposite at Lazio where a goalless draw at Parma means the Cup is the Biancocelesti’s best hope of the Europa League. Vlad Petkovic’s men have looked a little washed out of late. “We needed the three points to cling on to Europe,” he said. “It is disappointing but we’ll make up for it next week.”
On Saturday, Atalanta and Bologna shared a point each which means they are almost certain of survival while the following day Genoa showed their determination to stay afloat too with a vital win over Chievo. It still looks like they will fight it out with Palermo and Siena to avoid two of the three relegation spots. Something has got to snap in that particular battle pretty soon.