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After five years and nearly 200 matches, Inter’s reign as kings of Serie A has come to an end.  Perhaps it was an inevitable truth, considering how far the Nerazzurri fell behind during the first few months of the season.  Regardless, it hurt no less this past Saturday evening watching cross town rivals Milan celebrate their Scudetto win.

While celebrations were taking place on the other side of town, it was back to business at Appiano Gentile.  The squad had their annual asado, in conjunction with Lucio’s birthday, and were preparing for the next day’s game against Fiorentina.  The Sunday afternoon match at the Giuseppe Meazza had an odd atmosphere surrounding it, as everyone present was cognizant of the fact that the prestigious Inter shirt would no longer be the home of the Scudetto badge next season.

The match itself was a good performance by the Nerazzurri in lieu of the circumstances as they defeated Fiorentina 3-1.  Inter manager Leonardo fielded a somewhat makeshift lineup, as illness and injuries forced his hand.  He chose to give Lucio some rest as a birthday present and handed the start to Marco Materazzi, who partnered Andrea Ranocchia in central defense. 

Left back Yuto Nagatomo was scheduled for the game, but he came down with the flu prior to the match.  The notable inclusion was the Brazilian wonder kid, Philippe Coutinho, who slotted into the trequartista role normally occupied by the injured Wesley Sneijder.  Inter went up two goals before halftime thanks to Giampaolo Pazzini and Esteban Cambiasso but an Alberto Gilardino goal for the Viola made things interesting in the second half.  Coutinho’s first goal in Serie A came courtesy of a magisterial free kick and proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

Focus immediately shifted from the campionato to the Coppa Italia second leg tie against Roma.  While the Inter versus Roma Coppa matches have been a dime a dozen in recent history, there was one very special note about this particular round.  This match would commemorate Captain Javier Zanetti’s 1,000th professional appearance in his career.  A feat so impressive, only nine other players have been able to cross the remarkable threshold before the Inter captain. 

Prior to the match, ‘il Capitano’ received a silver plate celebrating his accomplishment and he wore a special armband made especially for this occasion.  If there was a reason to want to win and advance to the Coppa Italia final against Palermo, the night’s festivities in honour of ‘Pupi’ was a solid source of inspiration.

Inter and Roma usually brings about the fireworks when they play each other, and this time was no different.  The encounter was gritty, physical and as always, absolutely intense.  Both sides had opportunities in each other’s penalty areas throughout the first half but after 45 minutes, it was still 0-0.  The second half had the same feel as the first, but with all the chances on goal for the two teams, the deadlock would eventually be broken.  Inter were the first to strike thanks to another Samuel Eto’o goal.  After Kharja’s pass was deflected by Simone Perrotta’s arm in the box, the Cameroonian was in the right spot to control the ball and to net his 34th goal of the season.

Now up 2-0 on aggregate, the Nerazzurri were assuredly on the way to their sixth final in the last seven years.  Leo replaced Kharja and Pazzini with Thiago Motta and Diego Milito, respectively, later in the half for a run out and with thoughts for the next match at the weekend.  Even though the tie looked settled, the Giallorossi were never going to make the last 15 minutes of the game easy. 

Inter were fortunate as a Marco Borriello shot found its way past Julio Cesar, only to find not one, but two goalposts impeding his ability to score the equalizer.  Borriello would eventually find the back of the net in the 84th minute, leading to a very nervy end of the match.  Inter relaxed a bit prior to the goal, but with time winding down and with the knowledge that another Roma goal would put the away side through, the intensity level was heightened. 

Also heightened were the tensions on the pitch.  In stoppage time, Juan clearly brought down Milito in the box, yet no foul or penalty was given.  The main talking point, though, was at the conclusion of the match.  The behaviour of ex-Inter player Nicolas Burdisso was highlighted, as he verbally sparred with ex-club and current Argentina teammate Cambiasso, as well as other Inter players on the bench and Leonardo.  After a charged three minutes of stoppages, full time was finally called and Burdisso continued jawing, but this time with another fellow Argentine in Milito as they walked down the tunnel.  (Just a note- Walter Samuel and Milito both talked to Burdisso after tempers cooled and they smoothed things over while ending with a hug.)  Inter were through to the Coppa Italia final on an aggregate score of 2-1.

Meanwhile, no temper tantrum was going to spoil the night for rejoicing Interisti.  After such a tumultuous season, there was a reason to celebrate.  At the end of the day, Inter were heading for another cup final and the night belonged to the legendary captain.  Capping off the evening, Zanetti stood under the loyal Curva Nord, joining them in jumping and chanting “Chi non salta rossonero è…”

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