TSG’s Eric Giardini recounts the horrors of Sunday’s Roma-Lazio Derby
Heading into Sunday afternoon’s Derby della Capitale I had every intention of writing an unbiased review of one of the most hotly contested derbies in world soccer. Roma had won five straight in the series, which they were more than willing to remind their cross-town rivals, and the city was in the midst of violent protests as part of the Occupy Wall Street worldwide movement which had even threatened to delay the derby. I had my computer in front of me and was abstaining from alcohol in an attempt to keep a clear head to compile my thoughts into an artful, intelligent review.
Instead, you are getting this – the completely bias perspective of a fan. If you are looking for what the “experts” have to say about the match, there are plenty of great sites around that will provide you a recap. However, those recaps will not provide the emotion associated with being on the edge of your seat living and breathing with every kick.
Even with Francesco Totti out due to injury, I still had a good feeling heading into the match. The players had begun to buy into the new system being installed by Luis Enrique and were unbeaten in their last four. I, foolishly, had looked to see how far up the table Roma would climb with the full three points (3rd and one point back from the leaders) with all of the results earlier in the weekend seemingly going Roma’s way. I even overlooked the fact that Enrique’s lineup only featured two players who had started any of the three derbies played last year. “Oh I get it. He’s putting in ‘neutrals’ that won’t get caught up in the madness and will keep cool” is what I told myself. The naivety of hope.
At 2:40pm, I put on the new 11/12 third shirt which I had diligently worn, and not washed, since the unbeaten streak began. I turned the ESPN3 stream on and waited for kickoff.
My pre-match confidence disappeared faster than the new iPhone 4s from the local Apple store. I was a wreck. I went from sitting in my chair, to standing, to pacing, back to sitting and the only thing that could calm my nerves (without drinking) happened in the first five minutes.
Two of the new summer acquisitions, Miralem Pjanic and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (Enrique, you genius!), combined to put Roma ahead. Osvaldo, who looks like he should be selling, um, “medicine” near the Spanish Steps in Rome rather than being on the field, had just scored his fourth goal on the trot. “OSVALDOOOOOOOOOO,” I yelled as I sprang out of my seat doing some sort of double fist pump that would have made even Tiger Woods blush. My girlfriend, sitting on the couch, shot a puzzled glance at me from over the top of her laptop computer but I didn’t care. We were up 1-0 in a dream start and well on our way to handing Lazio their six consecutive defeat in the rivalry. As he lifted his shirt in celebration to reveal “I ho purgato anch’io” written on his undershirt – roughly meaning “Even I have purged you” in a tip of the cap (or lift of the shirt) to Francesco Totti’s famous “Vi ho purgato ancora” (“I have purged you again”) celebration from 1999, I laughed out loud. That was just the icing on the cake.
The first 25 minutes went according to plan as Roma was able to hold possession and, for the most part, dictate the pace of the match. Lazio were able to launch a couple of counterattacks but I still wasn’t worried. It was only around the 27th minute did I begin to have my doubts.
Maarten Stekelenburg, in his first match back after being kicked in the head against Inter last month, began to play like someone who had gotten kicked in the head. His command of the area wasn’t there as he was playing tentatively and mishandling balls in the area. Numerous times on camera Stekelenburg and his center back pairing of Gabriel Heinze and Simon Kjaer were seen yelling at each other. This, obviously, made me a little more nervous.
The tipping point in the match occurred with Roma right back Aleandro Rosi injured his ankle and had to be taken off to be replaced by Marco Cassetti – a hero from derbies past. Cassetti, making his first appearance of the season after saying he wants out in January, really tried his best to imitate Jonathan Bornstein’s infamous Gold Cup final performance. He was constantly out of position and if he wants to leave in January, he can go. Thanks for your service. It was around this time where Lazio began to dictate the pace a little bit more and started to put more pressure on the Roma goal. Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse began to become more involved in the game and late in the first half I wrote “With a combined age of what seems like 100, Cisse and Klose still put the fear of God into me”. How little did I know that prophetic nature of that absent-minded note.
The first half ended amid a flurry of fouls, misplaced passes, and general sloppy play for both sides so I was glad to hear the whistle. Being 1-0 up at halftime is not a terrible spot to be in and my nerves were a bit calmer. “Just stay the course,” I thought. “Keep possession and get back to what was working in the first 25 and it’ll be three points in the bag.” What transpired over the next 45 minutes was not staying the course.
Lazio came out full force with, again, Cisse and Klose being a thorn in the Roma back four’s side – in particular Simon Kjaer. Kjaer, on loan from Wolfsburg, had a first five minutes to forget. He was routinely caught out of position in that short span and, finally, in the 50th minute he was sent off by picking up a harsh red card when he brought down Cristian Brocchi in a box.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! THAT’S NEVER A PENALTY!” quickly transformed to “Kjaer, you idiot! How could you allow yourself to be put in that position? Why was Enrique playing someone who had never been in a derby before? What is he thinking?” (Who cares if this was contradictory to early proclamations of Enrique’s brilliance?)
Was Brocchi interfered with? Sure, whatever. I’ll concede that point, but did he make a total meal of the contact and sell it? Absolutely. Once referee Paolo Tagliavento called the foul, and gave the penalty, he had to bring out the red. Lazio’s captain Hernanes stepped up and converted from the spot but not before he began his run up and then STOPS AND RESTARTS! I could have sworn that this little piece of trickery is no longer allowed.
Anyways, it is now 1-1 and my note taking has stopped for fear that I’ll end up slamming my lap top on the coffee table. Of course, with only 10 men against the 12 for Lazio, I’ve basically given up on the victory and am now left to sit there, head in my hands, for the next 40 minutes as I hold out hope for a draw. It became quite evident that the match wasn’t going to stay 1-1, with the only drama being when exactly Lazio would break the deadlock. Klose kept rising for headers, even striking the crossbar on a glancing shot in the 70th minute, leaving me wondering if anyone on the Roma coaching staff had seen any footage on Klose since, I don’t know, 2002. He’s scored approximately 230 goals for club and country and I’m willing to bet at least 200 of them have been with his head. When Djibril Cisse turned back the clock for a moment to before his nasty leg break and ripped an incredible volley off the far post in the 83rd minute, I began to think that maybe luck would see us through we could hold on for the draw.
I’m kicking myself as I’m typing this because the last thing I want to do is to appear that I’m trying to imitate another writer who makes the following reference ad nauseum, but I can’t think of a better way to put this, so here it goes. I’m going to side with Red from The Shawshank Redemption. He is right – hope is a dangerous thing and, yes, it will drive you insane. Andy Dufresne is an idiot. For every gutsy performance of playing with a man down (see USA v Italy, Kaiserslautern, 2006) there are many more heart wrenching losses. Heed my advice fellow fans, if you team goes down a man in a tie match, just go ahead and assume the loss. If your team manages to hold on for a result, then that’s great. You’ll feel that much better for it.
In the end, the unrelenting Lazio pressure proved too much when, with 30 seconds left to play, Klose scored the game winner as he beat the ball-watching Cassetti and dispatched the ball in the corner of the goal. He runs to celebrate in front of the Lazio supporters as manager Edy Reja, who has never beaten Roma, shows what kind of guy he is as he runs to join the celebration. Where’s Jim Schwartz when you need him? The match is over as the celebrations go on as I continue to watch, fuming, because I’m a glutton for punishment. Olimpia, Lazio’s pet American Golden Eagle, is brought out to mark this historic occasion of Lazio actually winning a derby.
Side rant: For a club that likes to pride itself on being Rome’s one true club due to when it was founded, they have a funny way of showing it. Their mascot is an American eagle which symbolizes Greece and the clubs crest and colors are also symbolic of Greece. Roma, on the other hand, has the historic colors of the city and its crest depicts Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf that raised them before they founded Rome (and Romulus kills his brother). I think we all know the one true club.
As ESPN3’s feed cut out, I let out a string of expletives to no one in particular as, again, I get a nasty look from my girlfriend. Not one of my proudest moments. So you may be wondering how does one deal with the taste of defeat after forgetting what it was like to lose to your hated rival. For me, I embraced the feeling. I, like I imagine many other Roma supporters, had begun to feel invincible and took victories over Lazio for granted. I then quickly turned my focus to looking ahead to this weekend’s match with Palermo and am eagerly anticipating seeing how the squad will react to the loss. Besides, the March 4th return fixture will be here before I know it, and with it brings another chance to start a long winning streak.