Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Giancarlo Rinaldi On April - 29 - 2011

Rinaldi Reminisces: Lazio-Juventus

Once again the brilliant Giancarlo Rinaldi returns to cast a nostalgic eye over one of the weekends key fixtures. Serie A Weekly is proud to present the latest in this wonderful series.

Witnessing The Birth Of A Serie A Superstar

There was a time, it seemed, when he could never miss. Give the boy an opening from a particular angle on the left hand edge of the penalty area and every shot would trace an inexorable arc to the top right corner of the net.  There was little or nothing a goalkeeper could do to stop Alessandro Del Piero as he was starting to carve out his niche in Serie A folklore.

A most difficult artform was made to seem commonplace by Juve’s rising star of the 1990s. It almost appeared his physique had been perfectly constructed to deliver just the right amount of swerve and spin to a shot from that position. Slowly but surely most of Italy’s defenders discovered to their cost that leaving him even the tiniest amount of space would result in almost certain disaster.

In the 1994/95 season, he was yet to establish himself as being ‘da Juve’ (worthy of Juventus). He was still considered, by and large, to be Roberto Baggio’s deputy at the club. That state of affairs was not to last for much longer.

The Bianconeri were in hot pursuit of pace-setting Parma as the league entered its week 13 round of games. The boys from the Ennio Tardini were on the road to struggling Genoa while Juve set off for a much sterner test in the Stadio Olimpico against a Lazio side which was also on the fringes of the Scudetto hunt. It produced a clash with a better  flow than the River Tiber itself.

Juve went into the game missing some of their key players. Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Baggio, Angelo Di Livio and Luca Fusi were all sidelined, effectively taking the spine right out of the team. It was time for some of the new generation to make their mark.

It started out with a controversial moment which could have defined the game. Lazio were convinced they should have had a penalty after three minutes for a foul on Gigi Casiraghi. Even at full time, Zdenek Zeman was still raging.

“If they had given us the penalty we deserved it would have turned the match,” he insisted. “For me it was not only a penalty but Angelo Peruzzi should have been sent off. I don’t understand why Lazio always finish a match with 10 players and others end up with the full 11.”

Despite that contentious decision, Lazio were still able to take the lead after 20 minutes. Peruzzi could only parry away a Beppe Signori cross and wide man Roberto Rambaudi was on hand to thump home the opener. It was little more than their play deserved.

But a moment of foolishness from Roberto Cravero would swing the balance of the game. He picked up a second yellow card for deliberate handball reducing the home side to 10 men before the half hour mark. Even the cavalier Zeman was forced to withdraw Signori to shore up his defence. There was a Bergamo twang to the swear words as an irate little Beppe took off the captain’s armband and left the pitch to make way for defender Cristiano Bergodi.
“I understand Signori’s outburst,” said Zeman later. “Nobody likes to be substituted.”

It looked like the striker was right to be infuriated as Lazio started to wilt under Juve pressure. Marcello Lippi took a calculated risk, throwing young forward Corrado Grabbi into the fray in place of Massimo Carrera almost as soon as the home side had gone down to 10 men. It paid off in style.

“I don’t think it was brave,” said Lippi afterwards. “If you are sure that something is right, then you have to do it. But I am very pleased with the mental approach we showed from the outset. Despite the players we were missing, we always played to win.”

It was Del Piero, inevitably, who started the turnaround. In the 37th minute, he strode through the home defence and, despite loud shouts for handball, prodded home an equaliser. Then, early in the second half, it was Luca Marchegiani’s turn to offer an involuntary assist as he palmed an Antonio Conte cross out to Giancarlo Marocchi who struck it into the roof of the net to give La Vecchia Signora the lead for the first time.

It was then that Del Piero delivered his finishing masterclass. Seemingly marked by two men on the left wing, he danced between the pair of them before sweeping into the penalty box. He took just long enough to pick out the top corner of the net from an acute angle and swung the match decisively in the visitors’ favour.

All appeared to be lost for Lazio when a neat triangle of passes put Corrado Grabbi through to make it 4-1 with less than 10 minutes to play but there was time for a late revival which almost threatened to give them an unlikely share of the spoils. Rambaudi showed admirable persistence to set up Gigi Casiraghi who was happy to narrow the gap against his old team. Then, in injury time, a poor clearance by Alessio Tacchinardi ended up right at the feet of Diego Fuser who made it 4-3. The referee’s whistle saved Juve any chance of an embarassing slip-up shortly afterwards.

“We can build towards great success with these players,” Juve’s Roberto Bettega said as the dust settled on a thrilling game. “The Scudetto is our target, just as it was at the start of the season.”

“Doing without two great players like Baggio and Vialli is never easy and that means we were doubly good,” added Lippi. “Del Piero is a little champion, now he must become a complete champion, but he has some amazing touches.”

“A Baggio-style goal?” said the boy himself. “He remains the greatest, but that was a Del Piero-style goal. We showed that Juve can do without anyone. I need to keep getting better and become a complete player. I am not worried about the future, we are playing on three fronts and there will be room for everyone.”
The stirring display spoke volumes about both sides who would emerge as major protagonists in the fight for Serie A that season. Juventus went on to take the Scudetto but Lazio finished an admirable second. With 69 goals at an average of better than two a game, they were far and away the league’s top scorers. Their star man Signori ended with 17 strikes, Del Piero with just eight. But there was little doubt, even back than, that yet another major star of Italian football was starting to emerge in a black and white shirt

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