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

Inter versus Napoli was supposed to be a beautiful night of football.  It was supposed to showcase two top sides in Serie A who had represented Italy proudly in Champions League midweek.  It was supposed to be a battle between two teams potentially challenging for the Scudetto.  It was supposed to be a beautiful night of football.

The Nerazzurri were in the midst of finding themselves again under Claudio Ranieri and had come into this match with back to back wins, stemming from league play and in Europe.  The two wins were the first wins of the campaign, and Inter were looking to repeat the victory from this fixture last season.  The Partenopei were also coming into the game on a high, after beating Villarreal soundly in the Champions League.

The two clubs’ tifosi created a fantastic atmosphere in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, with both sets of supporters joining in anti-AC Milan chants of “chi non salta rossonero.”  Both club presidents, Massimo Moratti and Aurelio De Laurentiis, were present and exchanged salutations and friendly handshakes prior to kickoff.  There was nothing but positivity beaming around the stadium, with everyone looking forward to a great night.

That was before referee Gianluca Rocchi stamped his mark on something that never came to fruition.

Inter were missing names such as Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito, and Thiago Motta through injury, but for the first time this season, had Maicon available for selection.  The Brazilian right back shone in his season debut, showing how severely missed his marauding runs had been up to this point.  Unfortunately, no matter how any of the players performed on the pitch for either side, the star of the show was to be Rocchi.
The dubious officiating started early as Rocchi gave Joel Obi an undeserved yellow for a “tackle” on Ezequiel Lavezzi in the tenth minute.  Even though it was quite clear that Obi had won the ball, the referee harshly carded him without a prior warning.  Inter had a goal correctly called off because Giampaolo Pazzini was offside 24 minutes in, but the turning point of the match came in the 41st minute.

Obi fouled Christian Maggio outside the box, which Rocchi deemed not only worthy of a second yellow that resulted in expulsion, but a penalty as well… when the foul was outside the box.  Replays and still shots showed crystal clear that the penalty should never have been given and that the yellow card for this foul was just as unconvincing as Obi’s first card.

Needless to say, the penalty lit the fuse and Inter were ready to explode like a stick of dynamite.

Marek Hamsik lined up to take the penalty, only for Julio Cesar to make a terrific save.  Hugo Campagnaro rushed into the box, putting the rebound in the Inter net, past Cesar.  The second controversy in as many minutes arose, as Campagnaro had edged into the penalty area prior to Hamsik kicking the ball.  Both Captain Javier Zanetti and Julio Cesar were yellow carded by Rocchi, due to protesting.

Half time could not come soon enough, although the intermission brought even more controversy as the usually reserved Ranieri was also ejected from the match.  ‘Tinkerman’ asked Rocchi for an explanation of his decisions and the following events that had transpired on the pitch, but instead the referee decided to show the Inter manager a red card.  Subsequently, Ranieri spent the second half in the VIP player section watching the rest of the match with a look that combined shock, disbelief and bemusement.

Some spectators assumed that there would be one or two make up calls in Inter’s favour due to the severity of Rocchi’s mistakes.  That is the mistake of the casual viewer who rarely watch Inter matches that Rocchi officiates.  He rarely, if ever, gives them.

The second half was psychologically lost thanks to the preposterousness of Rocchi’s decisions:  Two yellow cards, both of which were unjust, equaling a red for Obi; a penalty that should never have been given because of the area in which the foul occured; an expelled coach for simply asking why the decisions were made; two yellow cards awarded to well respected veterans, with ‘Pupi’ Zanetti known for never losing his head without good reason.  As soon as Maggio scored Napoli’s second goal due to Yuto Nagatomo’s defensive mishap early in the half, the game was as good as gone.  Hamsik scored for the visitors with fifteen minutes left, making the final score Inter 0 – Napoli 3.

The headlines would not be about Napoli’s win, though.  Everyone was focused on the man wearing the yellow shirt with the whistle.  A referees’ influence should never be apparent in a match, and in this case, it is hard pressed to think that Rocchi had anything but influence.

People say clubs, players, and managers need to “get on with the game,” leave the whining out of the match and let the referee do his job.  So what happens when the referee clearly is not doing his job?

Referees are arbitrators of sport.  They are supposed to be unbiased entities that do not favour either side playing.  Granted, referees are also human and are prone to errors but are these judgment calls still considered errors when negative calls are consistently given against a specific team?

Inter immediately and rightfully protested the result against Napoli.  Not because of anything Napoli did, which was vehemently pointed out by club representatives, but because of Rocchi once again changing the face of the game.  The Inter that were playing in the first forty minutes of the match was refreshing to watch.  This squad was confident and it was apparent that they believed they could get the result needed against the opponent.  What everyone failed to realize was that the opponent happened to be the official in charge of the match.

Six days have passed with an opportunity for cooler heads and clearer thoughts to prevail, yet the anger and frustration still persist.  Now that the dust has settled from the ridiculousness that was Inter versus Napoli, the fallout is as followed: one match suspensions for Ranieri and Obi, 10.000€ fines for both Ivan Cordoba and Diego Milito, and 1.500€ for Zanetti.  Rocchi himself is rumoured to serve a two or three match suspension, but nothing has been finalized.  Inter’s request of Rocchi to never officiate a match of theirs fell on deaf ears and he could potentially be in charge of another Nerazzurri game in the second half of the season.

Prior to this match, Interisti joked who Rocchi would send off now.  Disconcertingly, no one knew how true any words spoken would be.  Here’s a look at all seven red cards Rocchi has shown Inter players in sixteen matches, which equals a nearly 50% chance of being send off if the player is wearing black and blue…

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