All of Bergamo descended on Rome on Wednesday, desperate for a chance to see Atalanta win their second Coppa Italia, the last coming in 1963. The hysterical and almost religious nature of their support was only part of the delicious cocktail that was this Final. Lazio may have not been drooled over this season like Atalanta. Far from it. In fact, they had created more negative Press than positive. However, they were not going to let these pretenders enter the Eternal City and win the Coppa, that was clear, not if the Romans could do anything about it.
With a 60-year-old Coach, who until recently had been largely ignored, a budget no way comparable with many of Italy’s big boys and with a youth system that, for once, wasn’t the main component of this team, what Atalanta have done is exceptional. None are prouder of their team in Italy than the people of Bergamo, whose side give every newborn baby a home kit and an offer - to pledge allegiance to their colours. They are people who live and breathe their club, even in the bad times. It is no wonder that, with their team looking in a superb position to qualify for the Champions League and the fact that they were in a Coppa Final, that excitement verged on hysteria.
Lazio arrived at the Olimpico in a different mood. Yes, they had beaten Cagliari in their last league game, but they had also tellingly been beaten by Atalanta, 3-1 on home oil. This was after the away side came back from a goal down. They’re good at that. Simone Inzaghi has been under pressure as the Aquile have slipped to a disappointing eighth spot, while recent defeats to Chievo, Milan and SPAL haven’t helped. What is more, their off-field issues with the fans, in particular their racist chanting against Milan and targeting of Tiemoue Bakayoko, has cast a shadow over their season. Even Claudio Lottio, their President, felt the need to warn against such behaviour before the Coppa Italia Final. The Italian media and the public’s perception had already painted this Final as ‘the light against the dark’.
Build-up to the game was marred by trouble, as was perhaps expected. The rivalry between Lazio and Atalanta saw water cannons and tear gas deployed as trouble spread and a police car was burned. In truth, this seemed not to involve Atalanta fans as most were already in the stadium. Instead, ultras from the capital club took the opportunity to clash with police in the Ponte Milvio area of the capital.
The teams arrived on the field to unrelenting rain, but it couldn’t drench the tumultuous atmosphere or high-octane start. Both sides were here to attack, both to counter and both to administer the first blow. Lazio looked the better side for a majority of the first half, although Atalanta’s chances seemed the clearest. The match started at a blistering pace and when the half-time whistle went, it felt like the tempo had never waned. The second half saw no let-up, Ciro Immobile left the field and Jose Luis Palomino saved the day for the Dea, however the quality on display was poor. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic ran out the hero, heading in the only goal just minutes after coming on, redeeming perhaps a poor personal campaign. More was to come as an Argentine was to own the night moments later.
Lazio can look back at their season and feel that the Coppa Italia has justified their efforts. There is no hiding that they underperformed in Serie A. That is, however, to the high standards they set themselves in seasons gone by. Off-field incidents were rightly or wrongly forgotten for a night, but the team did themselves proud. Inzaghi has proved again that he is one of the most promising young Coaches on the peninsula, yet this campaign has been tough. When Joaquin Correa killed the contest off, he reminded everyone that the story of this season had a final chapter that stays in Rome.