27 August 2006

Long day at the Coppa Italia

Seven of eight games go to extra time or beyond, only two favorites advance. Lazio and Juve out.

Messina 4-3 Lazio (aet)
Iliev 2', Cordova 4', Pandev 6' and 69', Di Napoli 98' and 102', Rocchi 114'

This game got off to an unbelievably fast start when after just six minutes the scoreboard read 2-0 in favor of Messina. Could that possibly be true? Unfortunately, it was. Messina was able to crash the patchwork midfield and defense of Lazio for the first goal and Nicolas Cordova was simply lucky on a corner kick that curled directly into Ballotta's net.

Why was our defense so unprepared? The back eight for Lazio were not at all in the familiar positions we have seen so far in the Coppa, due to Siviglia's disqualification and an alleged last-minute injury to Mutarelli or Mauri (it's uncertain, but the bottom line is that neither of them started).

Oddo, Stendardo, Cribari, Zauri
Belleri, Ledesma, Mudingayi,

Pandev was able to get one back off of a direct free kick just two minutes later, which put some life back into the biancocelesti. At that point I revised my prediction of the final score from Messina 2-1 Lazio to Messina 10-12 Lazio, but that was not to be. Pandev was able to equalize in the second half. But a very tired Lazio, having just on Wednesday played a marathon match that went to PKs, was not looking forward to extra time. The chances to put the game away in regulation belonged to Arturo di Napoli, who had three chances at the 90th minute and beyond which were all denied by Ballotta, still playing well despite his years and the long week.

In extra time, di Napoli realized his chances. Ballotta, who had delivered clutch saves all week, could just not contain any longer. Another quick double strike from Messina put the score to 4-2 near the end of the first supplementary period. Lazio put on their most desperate offensive push in the second period, but could only come away with one goal by Rocchi, who was able to slip the defense.

So Lazio lost to a team it should have beaten and is eliminated from the Coppa Italia. No Laziale should be happy with the result, but immediately cries went up of "The season is lost, the season is lost! Forget about calcio for this year, we're out of Europe for good! Hope we don't get relegated!" This pessimism is nonsense. Last season Lazio drew many games against inferior teams (cite Messina 1-1 Lazio, Lazio 1-1 Cagliari, and Lazio 3-3 Empoli just to pull examples from the giro ritorno). Should this game have been a regular season Serie A match, Lazio would have come away with 1 point. We are starting this season with -11 points, but that absolutely is not a relegation condemnation. If you subtracted 11 points from Lazio's standing in the pre-Calciopoli table from last season, they would have finished in in 9th place, three points behind Chievo--that is to say, only 3 points out of a UEFA Cup spot. The fixtures for this season haven't even been announced yet; doom and gloom have not descended already.

Napoli (5)3-3(4) Juve (apk)
Chiellini 27', Bucchi 39', Calaio 54', del Piero 78' and 119', Cannavaro 120'

In every respect, this was the match of the day, if not the match of the tournament. Years of anticipation culminated on the pitch at the Stadio San Paolo in Napoli. 60,000 tickets were sold in advance and 70,000 filled the stands for the first competitive match between these storied squads since they both played in Serie A in 2001. (This of course bodes well for the two times they will face each other this coming season, now that they are both in Serie B.)

Juve took the early lead, but Napoli found the equalizer before halftime. Emanuele Calaio caused San Paolo to erupt after going one-on-one with Gigi Buffon and dribbling his way around to slot the go-ahead goal in an empty net. But at 2-1 the match was far from over. Alessandro del Piero, who did not start the match but was put on in the second half, found his first of two goals to send the match to extra time.

Neither side saw any decent chances in the first period of extra time, but sparks began to fly in the second period. World champion midfielder Mauro Camoranesi was sent off for elbowing his mark, but the man advantage was lost when Napoli's Gianluca Grava saw yellow for the second time on the night. Despite the excitement, scoring chances did not materialize, until at the 119'50" mark, when del Piero found his second goal. A clincher, no doubt, which the Napoli crowd actually met with congratulatory applause. But a minute of recupero was given, just enough for Paolo Cannavaro (the younger brother of azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro) to capitalize on Napoli's last-ditch offensive push. This, of all matches, was to be decided from the penalty spot.

Even the PK sequence was tremendous. Cannavaro, savior of the match, botched his fifth-round kick that would have clinched the game for Napoli. Juve answered, and the match went to sudden death extra PK rounds. Juve's Federico Balzaretti missed his attempt in the sixth round and home team Napoli advanced to face Parma in the round of 16.

Other action

Other games saw three Serie A teams drop to lesser opponents: neo-A squad Atalanta to bottom-of-B Triestina; Udinese to just-penalized Arezzo; and Cagliari to Brescia. The automatic round of 16 qualifiers must be thrilled with these outcomes, hoping to all make easy advancements into the quarterfinals. The upset specialists, however, are looking to strike again come November's second phase.

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