JUVENTUS INVINCIBLE NO MORE

Juventus players dejected after defeat to Inter *** image courtesy of fu6bol ***

The screaming headline on the front page of Turin based newspaper, Tuttosport, summed it all up.

Juve INTERrotta ,

Which translates to,- Juve INTERrupted.

For that is exactly what happened on Saturday in Italy’s Serie A. For the first time since Antonio Conte took charge of Juventus. For the first time since Juve became the first, and still, only club in Italy to own its own stadium. For the first time in 50 Serie A matches, Juventus had to endure the bitter taste of defeat.

And there was no club more appropriate in Italy  to inflict it upon them.

Despite not coming from the same city, Juventus FC vs FC Internazionale is one of Italy’s fiercest rivalry. This rivalry divides a nation, sets hate among two families, and even once caused Parliament proceedings to be stopped, the bickering and shouting occasioned by a debate concerning a Juve-Inter match causing the Deputy Prime Minister to remind the parliamentarians that they were not in a football stadium and that the “spectacle” they were showing the rest of the country (the proceedings were being broadcast live) was “…unworthy, embarrasing and grotesque..”

No wonder Italian journalist Gianni Brera coined the term ‘Derby d’Italia’ (Derby of Italy) in 1967  in reference to this rivalry.

And to understand what Derby d’Italia truly means, allow me to take you on a journey down memory lane.

The Moratti Family vs The Agnelli Family

Its the 1960-1961 season. Juve are at home to Inter, but the match has to be abandoned because a pitch invasion makes it impossible to continue. The FIGC (Italian Footbll Federation) awards the game to Inter. But after ‘further consultations’, the decision is reversed and the game is set to be re-played.

Angelo Moratti, Inter’s owner and self made oil tycoon cannot believe it. He accuses the Agnelli family who own Juve, of influencing the decision. In further protest, Inter field their youth team for the replay. They duly get beaten 9-1 and Juve duly close in and win the Serie A title.

But the tradition has been set in stone. The belief that Juve use external factors to aid them win, is established.  And first in line to always point it out, are Inter and the Moratti family.

Grande Ruberia

Fast forward to April 1998. Five games remain for title chasing leaders Juve and Inter. The last four are easy matches. The fifth, and imminent one, is a game between the two.

So second placed Inter travel to first placed Juve with only a point separating them. Both teams know that the victor will in all probability go on to win their next four games and thus clinch the scudetto.

20 minutes in, Alessandro Del Piero draws first blood. With 20 minutes remaining, Juve are still a goal up. Inter striker Ronaldo, as he has done all game long, weaves his way into Juve’s penalty area. Only this time, he is destined to score. But then, Juve defender Mark Iuliano cynically steps in front of him obstructing the Brazilian’s path. Ronaldo goes down. Stonewall penalty. All eyes look to referee Piero Ceccarini as he surprisingly waves play on. And while Inter are still in disbelief, the ball immediatey finds its way down the other end. Del Piero tumbles in the box. Ceccarini this time points to the spot. Penalty to Juve.

Inter are livid. They surround the referee complaining to the point that Gigi Simoni, Inter’s manager, is sent off.

Del Piero misses the penalty. But the sense of injustice isn’t missed.

Juve see out the game and close in on the scudetto.

Ceccarini’s actions would however be debated across Italy and even on the floor of parliament. One parliamentarian is heard shouting at another parliamentarian who used to be a Juve player, “They’re all thieves! They’re all thieves!”

Parliament proceedings are suspended. Parliamentarians punished and fined. The perception of Juve’s ruberia – thievery, is further enhanced.

Calciopoli

In 2006, along with other clubs, Juve are found guilty of influencing the referees organisation to appoint ‘favourable referees’ for their games. Juve are punished with relegation and their titles from the 2004-2005 season, and the 2005-2006 season are stripped of them. The latter is awarded to Inter.

For Inter, it is mild justification. All those years of unproven Juve thievery finally shown through Calciopoli. They benefit from the punishments to dominate Italian football. By May 2010, they are at their zenith. They clinch the Champions League to become only the sixth club in European history to hold the treble of European Cup, League title and domestic cup. By the end of the year they have five trophies.

All the while, Juve are struggling. Their first season back from Serie B had seen them finish a respectable 3rd. But from then on, they’d finished 7th three seasons in a row. The third time wasn’t even enough to qualify them for the Europa League.

Antonio Conte

So last season, former club legend Antonio Conte arrived to take charge of Juve. With no European football to offer distraction, he fully concentrated on the League. Tactically, he outdid everyone else. Mentally too. Juve produce scintillating football, dazzle with their passing, stretch the imagination with their tactical flexibility and emerge champions. And they do so without losing a game.

Derby d’Italia, November 2012

It is from this backdrop that the Derby d’Italia came to a crescendo on Saturday. Juve had extended their unbeaten run to 49. Nothing would have mattered more than making it 50 against Inter.

And with 18 seconds on the clock, it looked as if they would. A quick move led to Kwadwo Asamoah squaring the ball for Arturo Vidal to put Juve a goal up. Far from the sense that Juve were on track for 50, the sense of ruberia propped up once more as replays showed that Asamoah was in an offside position. And when later on, Stephan Lichsteiner was clearly spared from being given a second yellow, Inter feared the worst. Even Rodrigo Palacio’s correctly disallowed offside goal now felt as if Juve’s ruberia was in force again.

Juve nonetheless were still dazzling. At the heart of it all – Andrea Pirlo. The man known as il metronome – the architect, was still pulling the strings. With every pass, every touch, every move, Juve’s main man was doing what he has been doing for years – influencing the game with that ‘pirloean’ class of his.

However, where Juve had the king in Pirlo, Inter had the prince in Diego Milito. Il principe showed Juventus just what they have been lacking. A clinical striker. Failing to get Robin Van Persie, Stefan Jovetic or Fernando Llorente in the transfer window, Juve were stuck with Nicklas ‘am as good as Messi’ Bendtner. The Dane had been brought on during the interval, partly because of Mirko Vucinic’s injury, and partly because Juve needed to get a second to secure the game. But the Dane could not match up to the Argentine’s class as Inter slowly started making their presence felt.

Besides that though, Inter manager,Andrea Strammacioni, pulled a masterclass of a substitute when he brought on Fredy Guarin. By this time, Milito’s well struck penalty had drawn Inter level. But Guarin’s introduction would provide the platform for the winner. The Colombian midfielder simply did what Chelsea’s Oscar and Fiorentina’s Adem Ljajic have done already this season – prevent Pirlo from playing when Juve have the ball by pressing up on him, but sprint past him to assist the attack when Juve didn’t. It was from this that Inter took the lead six minutes into Guarin’s introduction; Guarin pressing up on Pirlo, robbing him of the ball, using his fresh legs to sprint into Juve’s penalty area and unleashing a shot that could only be parried away by Gianluigi Buffon. But the parry went straight onto Milito’s path and his clinical finish effectively won the game for Inter and would have counted as the winner were it not for Palacio’s 94th minute coup de grace.

In the end, Juve were Invicibili no more. Finally, they had been beaten. Out for 49. The streak ended at home. The only other club to have defeated them in the Conte era had been Napoli in the Coppa Italia Final last season. Inter became the first to do it in the league.

But even in victory, Inter owner Massimo Moratti was angry with referee Paolo Tagliavento and his assistants. He criticized them for their poor decisions, referring to them as ‘unjustifiable’ and ‘intentional’. He accused them of deliberately trying to favour Juventus. But haven’t we been here before? For Massimo substitute his father, Angelo. For Tagliavento substitute Ceccarini. History repeating itself all over again in the Derby d’Italia.

This will certainly not be the end of it as now, Inter are just a point behind Juve. There is a long way to go, but at the moment, it looks as if Serie A will in all likelihood descend into a two horse race between the bianconeri and the nerazzuri.

Be it on the pitch or off it, Derby d’Italia will continue to sizzle.

With 18 Serie A titles, Inter are only ten titles away from Juve’s record of 28. But the myriad of politics behind Calciopoli mean that Juve still insist that they should have 30, (if you include the two stripped titles). To this effect, Juve have, for this season placed a small inscription beneath their crest that reads ’30 Sul Campo’ – ’30 on the pitch’. Whether there is justification for Juve doing this is a matter that no manner of debate can effectively bring to a satisfactory conclusion.

What is certain however is that on the 3rd of November 2012, Inter prevented Juve from making it 50 on the pitch.

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