He may not have been at the match but his spirit oozed from its every pore. From the mocking machine-gun Juventus goal celebrations to the memories of the last time Fiorentina won this fixture, there was one name which echoed throughout the match. By the end of a gobsmacking afternoon, the Viola had produced a performance worthy of Gabriel Omar Batistuta.
It was December 1998 when the Stadio Artemio Franchi last saw its favourites down their most bitter adversaries. On that day it was Batigol, of course, who ghosted in behind the last defender to head home the winner. On Sunday it was Giuseppe Rossi’s turn to take centre stage in a comeback of mind-boggling magnitude.
For more than an hour, nothing had looked less likely. Vincenzo Montella’s men had bashed their heads off a brick wall in the first half and then slipped behind to a Carlitos Tevez penalty and Paul Pogba pouncing on a clumsy attempt at a clearance by Juan Cuadrado. It seemed certain they would follow the time-honoured script of failing in the match their fans most want them to win.
But then, however, something most unexpected happened. Rossi converted a lifeline penalty and the Bianconeri – so often expert at extinguishing hope in their opponents – were submerged by a purple tide. In 15 mesmerising minutes Pepito thumped a second past an ill-timed Gigi Buffon dive, Joaquin slotted coolly home in acres of space and the Italian-American striker completed a hat-trick after a searing Cuadrado counter-attacking run. If they had not already taken away the barriers at Fiorentina’s ground, the fans might have pounded them down in delight.
This was emotional redemption for Rossi after so long out through injury. What made it all the more remarkable was that he had required treatment from the physio after just two minutes. He now sits proudly on top of the Serie A scoring charts just like a certain Mr Batistuta used to do when he led the line in the Renaissance City.
It was also an uncharacteristic blow for Antonio Conte’s men to suffer. He has been harping on about how hard it would be for them to maintain the levels achieved in the past two seasons and this was evidence that there might be substance to his warnings. He said he hoped it would prove to be a similar “slap” to the one they endured in defeat to Inter last year which served to sharpen up their approach. They will need to get their heads clear quickly, of course, if they are to avoid a knockout blow against Real Madrid in Europe.
La Vecchia Signora’s defeat was the icing on the cake to a perfect long-weekend for Roma. They won their top-of-the-table clash with Napoli on Friday night with another Argentine legend looming over the game. The presence of Diego Armando Maradona, however, was not enough to inspire Rafa Benitez’s men to victory.
Instead, Miralem Pjanic produced a free-kick the maestro would have been proud of to break the deadlock and then converted a penalty to clinch the Friday night tussle. That made it eight wins out of eight since the start of the season. Next weekend the Giallorossi could match a Serie A record which is another of those lovely little nuggets of controversy which Calciopoli left behind. Fabio Capello’s Juve reeled off nine triumphs on the trot at the outset of their journey to the 2005-06 Scudetto which was subsequently taken off them.
Little wonder no club has been able to match the pace of Rudi Garcia’s side which is without equal in the major European Leagues this term. Napoli and Juve remain their closest rivals despite their setbacks at the weekend. The capital club is bound to slow up some time, but they could have racked up a significant advantage by the time that moment comes.
Verona’s incredible start to the season continued with a win which was just as epic as Fiorentina’s as they saw off Parma in a real ding-dong battle at the Bentegodi. Having grabbed an early lead, Hellas were overhauled before two Jorginho penalties turned the game on its head. It puts them in a fantastic fourth place for the time being.
Inter had hoped to overhaul them on the road to Torino on Sunday night but they faced an uphill task from the outset. Down to 10 men early on and twice trailing, Walter Mazzarri’s men hauled themselves back to a winning position only to have Nicola Bellomo level the match with an audacious free-kick in the closing moments. On the upside for the Nerazzurri was the character they showed in clawing their way into the match. The downside, however, was some pretty inept defending for much of the game.
Sunday’s night game also saw Alessio Cerci fail to convert what was the 11th penalty of the weekend – which equalled the record number of spot-kicks for a round of games dating back to the 1950-51 season. You can decide for yourself which one of them was the most dubious. One thing is for certain, Serie A players are more expert than most in winning such decisions.
Elsewhere, Milan ground out a vital one-goal win over Udinese which is unlikely to have had Barcelona trembling in their designer boots. At the bottom end of the table, Samp saw off Livorno and Sassuolo beat Bologna to get their first wins of the season while Atalanta clipped Lazio’s wings and an Alberto Gilardino double helped Gian Piero Gasperini get his Genoa side past Chievo.
But if there were vital gulps of oxygen for some sides at the bottom of the table that was not the case for Catania and it produced a typical piece of short-sighted Italian football action. Defeat by Cagliari was enough to see Rolando Maran sent packing despite gathering a record points total for the club in Serie A last year. Gratitude, we know, is a commodity which is rarer in Calcio than Roma defeats these days.