The penultimate weekend in Serie A was a time for emotional farewells. Giancarlo Rinaldi pays tribute to a Nerazzurri hero and waves off three teams consigned to Serie B.
For the diehards, it would be utterly unthinkable. A kind of Calcio doublethink that their blinkers could not possibly let them countenance. In this season of an emphatic vindication of all things Juventus, how could we conceivably celebrate an Inter hero?
And yet, for those of us of a less venomous inclination, that was exactly the opportunity the weekend afforded. We set aside the snide insinuations and ritual rivalries to salute a Nerazzurri legend. And it felt good to honour Javier Zanetti.
He has been part of the Serie A furniture for longer than most of us can remember. Like an old, familiar armchair, he has provided comfort to Inter in good and bad times over the best part of a couple of decades. They sent him off in style in his last game at San Siro on Saturday with a resounding 4-1 triumph over Lazio which booked their place in next season’s Europa League.
“I want to thank all my teammates who have been close to me throughout my career,” said the clearly emotional Argentinean. “My time as a footballer is over but my life goes on. It’s the end of a beautiful career – defending these colours which I truly love and I have always tried to honour. I will always love you.”
There was little doubt that his feelings for the fans were more than reciprocated. There is talk of retiring his No 4 shirt and, almost certainly, some backroom role at the club. It would be the very least such a consummate professional and impeccably-coiffured individual deserves.
There was a little less style to the send-offs being given down at the bottom end of the table. Victories for Sassuolo and Chievo over already-safe Genoa and Cagliari respectively meant the names of all three relegated sides were decided with a week to spare. Catania’s parting gift was to effectively cut Bologna’s throat as their victory at the Dall’Ara meant that both sides were consigned to Serie B. They will be joined by Livorno whose fans tastefully urged Leandro Rinaudo to break Giuseppe Rossi’s legs – as he did in their meeting in Florence – during their Tuscan derby with Fiorentina. He failed, thankfully, in that mission this time around and Juan Cuadrado grabbed the game’s only goal to sink the side from the port city. The result also guaranteed the Viola fourth place in Serie A this season – a just reward for their entertaining efforts once more this campaign.
The fate of the three relegated teams has been achieved in very different manners. Catania only really seemed to come to life when it was too late in the season to save themselves. As for Bologna, they appeared happy to send themselves packing when they let Alessandro Diamanti ship out for China, effectively denying themselves about the only touch of class they possessed. As for Livorno, they never really got going and the water which was around their neck pretty much since the opening day finally submerged them. There will be plenty of other sides around them in Serie B who have recently played in the top division which would tend to suggest that none of them are certainties to bounce straight back up.
The top three, of course, was already decided but Juve closed to within a single point of 100 this season with a 1-0 win over Roma at the Olimpico. Ex-Giallorossi hitman Pablo Osvaldo confirmed his love affair with scoring goals against his old teams to clinch the victory. It seems improbable that Cagliari can possibly stop Antonio Conte’s men hitting their century next weekend. As dominance goes, it has been pretty much imperious.
With nothing left to play for at either side, Napoli and Sampdoria served up the weekend’s highest scoring clash with the Partenopei thumping the Blucerchiati 5-2. But it is a little further down the table that the only real excitement left in the division still beckons. Results conspired to leave four sides in contention to join Fiorentina and Inter in next season’s Europa League.
Verona must have thought they had blown their chance when they could do no better than draw with Udinese on Saturday. However, they had not factored in a somewhat freakish sequence of results which kept them in the hunt. First a late Franco Brienza beauty capped a comeback win for Atalanta over Milan to deny the Rossoneri a vital three points in their quest for Europe. Then Torino and Parma played out a 1-1 draw – in which Ciro Immobile scored and was sent off – to leave the issue of continental football wide open.
Those scorelines left Toro with a slender advantage of a single point in sixth place but they face a potentially tricky trip to Florence next week. Parma and Milan look to have easier tasks with home ties to Livorno and Sassuolo respectively while Verona make the trip to Naples. Some question how desperately any Italian side wants to compete in the Europa League but – with the exception of the Rossoneri – it would be the crowning glory of an exemplary season for the teams involved in the four-way squabble. It might not be the final-day title drama of other leagues but, at least, it gives a good slice of the Serie A calendar one last little dash of spice.