It may have lacked excitement, but Giancarlo Rinaldi reflects on how the Rome derby Coppa Italia Final will be savoured always by one half of the city.
It was meant to be the biggest Rome derby in the history of the game. With a trophy and a place in Europe up for grabs, the stakes could hardly have been higher. But, unfortunately, the match itself turned out to be about as uninspiring as the decision to hire South Korean rapper Psy for the pre-match entertainment.
That should not diminish Lazio’s achievement in lifting the Coppa Italia, especially after their form had been seemingly descending far quicker than their emblematic eagle ever did. Clearly Vlad Petkovic had been keeping a little something up his sleeve in the closing weeks of the Serie A campaign. It was enough to convince most observers that his Biancocelesti troops were worthy victors of a run-of-the-mill final showdown.
On the Roma front the players failed to give Aurelio Andreazzoli the send-off he hoped for. While this year’s Champions League and Europa League titles both went to managers whose days were numbered at their respective clubs, there was to be no such dramatic irony in Italy’s knockout competition. His star performers either could not or would not produce the goods. By the final whistle, the Giallorossi appeared to have cracked like a terracotta tile which had been patched up one time too often.
The 90 minutes in the Olimpico sun were no showpiece for Calcio. Referee Daniele Orsato tried to put down a marker with a yellow card to Cristian Ledesma for the first real foul of the game but it failed to curb the worst excesses of Italian football. The niggling knocks and attempts to get opponents into trouble continued for most of the match. For a game which is supposed to be played with a smile on its face, this one’s demeanour was more of a constant scowl.
Fear of defeat seemed to be the overriding emotion of the evening which is understandable, perhaps, in a match in which some Lazio players had received death threats during the tense build-up. The terror of losing to their eternal rivals seemed to inhibit the flair footballers who might have produced a spark of skill to raise the game from its slumber. Instead, they either failed to ignite or were so well snuffed out that the neutral spectator could have been forgiven for feeling a drowsiness akin to that induced by one pre-match Spritz too many.
Only midway through the second half did the game acquire any of the flow befitting of a tie being played out in the city of the River Tiber. Finally some gaps opened up and there were chances at either end before the boys in blue managed to make the vital incision which would kill off their capital cousins. It had long since been feeling like an encounter in which one goal would be more than sufficient to secure the spoils.
The match-winning effort confirmed the key role of a corner of the Balkans in deciding this Coppa Italia. It proved to be a triumph for Bosnia and Herzegovina with Mostar-born Senad Lulic scoring the winner for his boss - and son of Sarajevo - Petkovic. It will hopefully have made up in some small way for the nation’s failure to participate in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest due to economic reasons.
It allowed Lazio to end the season with a surprise upturn and a place in European football which they had looked to have thrown away. Looking around their squad in recent years, they never appear to possess a particularly thrilling bunch of players and yet they keep getting the job done. Without the ballyhoo and bluster of some of their league rivals, they seem to manage to produce pretty impressive results. They are the Fiat Doblo’ of Calcio, not all that great to look at - but they get you where you want to go.
The Giallorossi, of course, have been the flipside of that analogy for much of this season, like a Ferrari constantly stuck in the garage for repairs. From the outlandish Zdenek Zeman to the more humdrum Andreazzoli, they have hugely underachieved for a side which looked to have a strong and technically gifted array of footballers at its disposal. In the Coppa final - just as they did over the arc of the whole season - they failed to do themselves justice.
And so it was the supporters on the Curva Nord who were celebrating a sixth success in the domestic cup competition rather than Roma stitching on a silver star for a 10th triumph. It was particularly pleasing to see Cristian Brocchi be part of the victory party after suffering a career-ending injury this season. Like every other follower of the Biancocelesti he will no doubt be quite rightly clearing a space in his television cabinet for a DVD of this win in an historic capital derby. The rest of us, however, will be happy enough to have watched it just the once.