Scott Fleming on how two strikers, who have endured difficult seasons, combined to produce one of the greatest Serie A matches of all time.
In a match that was so nearly postponed, on a pitch covered in snow, in the freezing cold, and with a yellow ball at their feet, they clashed. Diego Milito and Fabrizio Miccoli, the Prince and the Pocket Bomber. Born 15 days apart in the summer of 1979, the elegant Argentine and the stocky Italian make for unlikely rivals, but their duel at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza last night is one that will surely go down in Serie A legend.
Milito trained under Diego Armando Maradona with the Argentine national team. Miccoli adores Maradona, going as far as naming his son Diego and buying one of the great man’s earrings at auction. Other than that one, rather tenuous connection, there are few discernible links between the players, and yet they always bring the best out of one another.
Miccoli scored two and set up one when Inter and Palermo contested another San Siro thriller in October 2009, a match the Nerazzurri eventually won 5-3 after Milito intervened with a late goal. Their game of ‘anything you can do I can do better’ reached spectacular new heights in Sicily last September, both men hitting doubles in an astounding 4-3 triumph for Palermo at the Renzo Barbera.
But, like Mohammed Ali and Smoking Joe Frasier, Milito and Miccoli saved their best for the third bout, the one that took place in Milan last night, the one that those tifosi brave enough to bear the icy winds and incessant snow at the Meazza will be telling their grandchildren about 30 years from now.
Miccoli scored in the 52nd, 66th and 85th minutes, Milito in the 22nd, 55th, 61st and 68th. It was the first ‘poker’ netted by an Inter player since Christian Vieri in 2002, though not the first of his career – El Principe having struck another famous quadruple in Real Zaragoza’s 6-1 Copa del Rey destruction of Real Madrid in 2006. The only goal not scored by one of the Mi-Mi duo in the stupendously entertaining 4-4 draw between Claudio Ranieri and Bortolo Mutti’s sides was Andrea Mantovani’s 16th minute opener, and sure enough, it was assisted by Miccoli.
Proclaimed as ‘Sovereigns in the snow’ by the Gazzetta dello Sport, their achievements are all the more remarkable when you consider the seasons Milito and Miccoli have had up until now.
That double in Palermo aside, Milito began the season in woeful form, giving rise to fears that the goal scorer supreme he was in Inter’s 2009-10 treble winning campaign was lost forever. In December he ‘won’ the infamous ‘Bidone d’Oro’, the ‘award’ bequeathed on the player voted Serie A’s worst.
There is no secret to his renaissance, just hard work, will power and the trust invested in him by Ranieri. In November against Lille in the Champions League the former Genoa forward missed sitter after sitter, yet the Tinkerman refused to withdraw him, and finally the goal came. “I would have battled with him till the end, I would never have taken him off,” said Ranieri afterwards.
As for Miccoli his only reward for remaining loyal to Palermo through the years in the face of overtures from Birmingham, and Inter funnily enough, has been to watch various Aquile sides on the brink of success have the rug pulled out from under them by Maurizio Zamparini’s sackings and player sales.
As galling as it must have been for ‘The Romario of Salento’ to see Delio Rossi leave for the second time last summer, after he had begged the Coach to return, watching Devis Mangia be replaced by Mutti and another promising season degenerate into chaos would have been even worse.
But instead of sulking or requesting a transfer, he’s played some of the best football of his career. With four goals and six assists, Miccoli has been directly involved in 10 of the 11 goals Palermo have scored in the last three games. His San Siro goals also saw him become Palermo’s all-time top scorer, his 64 surpassing the 62 of Carlo Radice.
He has had cause to regret his loyalty to the Rosanero on many occasions. Last night wasn’t one.