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

Giancarlo Rinaldi On May - 6 - 2011

Rinaldi Reminisces: Inter-Fiorentina

Back once more with a wonderful game to look back on, Serie A Weekly is proud to once again bring you this series from Giancarlo Rinaldi. With Roma-Milan and the Genova derby he had plenty of scope, yet with time running out on another season he stayed decidedly closer to home.  

 Trap’s Parting Gift  

As he inspected the San Siro playing surface, Giovanni Trapattoni could have been permitted a sentimental smile. Even in his own illustrious almanac of football achievements that most famous piece of Lombardy turf holds a special place. He first carved out his reputation as a player there and, as a manager, it was where he constructed his “Inter da record” (record-breaking Inter).  

That team set the highest ever points total for an 18-team Serie A with two points for a win back in 1988-89. It finished with 58 points out of a possible 68 in that 34 match campaign. It ended up 11 points clear of its nearest rivals and had the title sewn up with nearly a month to spare.  

But in spring 2000, Trap was sitting in the visiting team’s dugout at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. His Fiorentina side was involved in a thrilling fight for UEFA Cup qualification. His opponents, under another famous ex-Juve coach in Marcello Lippi, were battling hard to ensure Champions League football the following year. The devastating outcome of the match would surely have been impossible to predict.  

The two teams squared up with mirror-image 3-4-1-2 formations. Clarence Seedorf was in the midfield magician’s slot for Inter behind an all-imagination attack of Roberto Baggio and Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba. The Viola responded with Manuel Rui Costa to provide the defence-splitting promptings for Gabriel Batistuta and Enrico Chiesa. They would prove to have the better attacking options.  

It was to be a classic Trapattoni performance, with the Nerazzurri holding the initiative for long passages of play. Indeed, the home side mustered a season-high 27 attempts at goal during the match but they always looked vulnerable to a swift Fiorentina break. They also found visiting goalkeeper Francesco Toldo in outstanding form.  

“Inter did not play badly,” reported La Gazzetta dello Sport. “But the problem was they could not score in a game they needed to win … and that meant they pushed more and more men towards Toldo. That brought a big, sly smile to the lips of the opposition manager.”  

On the half hour mark, more or less, his team delivered its first blow to Inter’s confidence. Croatian defender Dario Simic played Chiesa onside from a Rui Costa pass and he sped through on goal. He made no mistake in beating Angelo Peruzzi to give the Viola an unlikely lead.  

The scoreline prompted Lippi to put out an even more aggressive formation for the second half. Out came Simic and in came Ivan Zamorano (even though he was not fully fit) to try to give some extra weight to the attack. It might even have worked, if his team had not conceded a second goal within moments of the restart.  

It came from a blunder by one of the most unlikely sources – Javier Zanetti. Asked to drop back into the defensive line with Simic’s departure he inadvertently set up the visitors with a poor backpass. The ball came off Peruzzi and Batistuta to set up Chiesa who was on hand to hammer home the follow-up shot and double the Viola’s lead.  

It was too much for the Inter manager to take and he clearly felt he had identified a culprit for the situation in one of his favourite whipping-boys, Roby Baggio. The Divin Codino was sacrificed to make way for Adrian Mutu just 10 minutes into the second half. The player’s disbelief at the decision was pretty evident.  

And this was to be no coaching masterstroke as the Milanese outfit started to disintegrate. They kept creating chances, but started to look more and more shaky in defence. It was little surprise when Rui Costa set up Batistuta for the third after 70 minutes and substitute Mauro Bressan (he of the overhead wondergoal against Barcelona) made it four with minutes to go. At the time, it was the worst home defeat in Inter’s history, surpassing a 4-1 triumph by Venezia back in 1943. It was also the only home game that season where they had failed to score. Little wonder they were jeered from the pitch.  

“When my best players are in top form, it is hard for anyone to take points from Fiorentina,” said Trap. “Before the game I didn’t think it would finish 4-0 but I was optimistic. I knew we could get the three points. We are flying at the moment. Since we went out of the Champions League we seem to have a bit more fuel in the tank for the championship.”  

He also had words of consolation for his opposite number who he knew would face criticism for the result.  

“It is not easy for anyone to do without two great players like Christian Vieri and Ronaldo. In football the players are more important than any formation. But everyone has an opinion, of course. In Florence there is even a butcher who tries to tell me about tactics.”  

Inter’s Champions League challenge was helped by the fact that rivals Parma also lost to Juventus that May weekend. But Lippi admitted he was worried with just one match of the season left to play.  

“I am a bit concerned about the possible psychological repercussions. The team collapsed after we went 2-0 due to a mistake from Zanetti – a hard-working player who has always been a role-model for this Inter side. In fact, the team did not do all it could to help a player who usually helps the team out a lot.”  

The game certainly made uncomfortable viewing for one of Inter’s stars sitting watching at home. Brazilian ace Ronaldo admitted he had not made it to the final whistle.  

“I couldn’t watch to the end of the match,” he said. “It made me feel so bad thinking about my team-mates that half-way through the second half I changed channels.”  

Another man who did not see the match through to its conclusion was Baggio. Much was made of his reaction to being substituted. It was pretty clear he was frustrated at being sacrificed in a match Inter needed to win.  

“We can’t sit here and discuss it every time a player does not like being substituted,” insisted Lippi. “Otherwise - and I’m talking about everyone, not just Baggio - these players would be better off at a club with just 13 players in its squad so they could be sure they would always play.”  

Despite the recriminations, the season would have a relatively happy ending for both sides as Lazio edged out Juve in a bitter battle for the Scudetto. Inter sneaked into Champions League qualifying by defeating Parma in a play-off. Fiorentina made it directly into the UEFA Cup.But it was to be a game which preceded a number of farewells.

Gabriel Batistuta was sold to Roma. Roby Baggio moved to Brescia and he was only just outstayed by Lippi who limped on to the start of the following season before being shown the door by the Nerazzurri. As for Trapattoni, he would also leave the Viola in the summer to take the Italy job. But he did depart having delivered a stunning result which remains the last Fiorentina victory recorded at Inter in Serie A.

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