A derby day hat-trick from Diego Milito downed Inter’s city neighbours Milan during the Derby della Madonnina, handing the title to Juventus in the process. Their record-setting 28th Scudetto win was confirmed as they roamed to a comfortable 2-0 victory against Cagliari, sending them four points ahead at the top of Serie A with just the one game remaining. The “Rambo” lookalike made the all-important difference in what was a pulsating game at the San Siro, netting two from the penalty spot after opening the scoring with a close range finish.
The 4-2 victory ended any hopes Milan had of retaining their league title, while Inter knew anything less than three points would run them out of contention for the final Champions League qualification spot. As it is, their chances are incredibly slim: they must beat Lazio next week and hope both Napoli and Udinese fail to pick up any points in their respective games.
The significance of the match-up was evident from the outset, with the game starting in an uncharacteristically end-to-end fashion from the word go. The league’s top scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović, had the first chance of the game, blazing over from close range when it appeared easier to score. However, just moments later Milito struck for the Nerazzurri with their first meaningful venture forward. A well judged curling free-kick from the rejuvenated Wesley Sneijder was knocked back across goal for the Argentine to strike home. First blood to Inter, you could say.
Moments after Lucio had a “goal” correctly chalked off for offside and Esteban Cambiasso’s header was scooped off the line by Christian Abbiati, the Rossoneri were back on level terms in controversial circumstances. Ghanaian international Kevin-Prince Boateng was put through on goal, only to be thwarted by a clawing stop from Júlio César as the former Portsmouth midfielder attempted to round the ‘keeper.
Or so we thought, but the referee obviously had different ideas as he pointed to the penalty spot, despite the defiant cries from the home side. “Ibra” converted well, and mocked César after his pitiful attempt at gamesmanship in the moments leading up to the spot-kick. The Swede then put Milan in the driving seat for the first time just minutes into the second-half, producing a delightful chip over the oncoming Cesar for his 28th goal of the season. Were Milan going to produce a vital derby win to keep their title hopes alive? Not if Inter had anything to do with it.
The end-to-end manner of the game was unrelenting, and it continued at a frantic pace leading up to another awarding of a penalty, this time to the hosts. Italian full-back Ignazio Abate foolishly placed his arms on Milito’s back, bringing him tumbling down in the box. The decision was soft, but it was stonewall compared to the laughable judgement the official made in the first half. Milito’s penalty was expertly directed into the top corner, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to bring his side on level terms.
From this point onwards, there was only one side in it. Sneijder took over the reins in midfield, Lucio and Walter Samuel were dominant at the back, while Milito worked tirelessly up front. This side stands in stark contrast to the one offered up by former coach Claudio Ranieri. They look enterprising, adventurous and have that all-important factor of football: they look like scoring goals.
A third and final penalty was awarded, but this time Milan could have no complaints. Milito smashed home into the roof of the net to complete his hat-trick, following Alessandro Nesta’s blatant handball. Marauding Brazilian full-back Maicon rubbed salt into the wounds in the final moments of the game as he smashed in a delicious 30-yard strike, and the game finished 4-2 in the hosts’ favour.
Even if Milan had managed to overcome their city rivals, the odds on who were favourites to lift the title were still stacked in the favour of Juventus. Having dispatched Cagliari in comfortable fashion, their final tie of the season was a visit to 11th place Atalanta. Having yet to lose a game this season, it would have been a huge shock had they failed to pick up a win.
As it is, Antonio Conte’s side have the Scudetto tied up with a game to spare. Juve fans would have been concerned that last week’s mistake during the 1-1 draw with Lecce from legendary goalkeeper Gigi Buffon could have proved costly (see below).
But it was Milan’s turn this week to drop points, meaning Buffon can breathe easily with the knowledge that he will gain his third Serie A title winners medal. In all honesty, the Old Lady have deserved this achievement and even Milan fans will begrudgingly admit Conte has worked wonders in his first season in management with the club.
Juventus spent a lot of money this season – €94m in total. But the most significant acquisition, ironically, was the free capture of Andrea Pirlo following his release from Milan. His majestic touch and vision was the key to Juve’s success this season, and you have to question why he wasn’t kept on at the San Siro for at least another year.
Unlike a certain English side, despite spending a lot of money Juve have invested well, covering all the right areas while only looking to acquire proven individuals. The likes of Stephan Lichsteiner, Arturo Vidal and Mirko Vucinić were all brought in on fees in excess of €10m. But unlike Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, these high value players have provided the goods consistently throughout the season. And when added to old hands like Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero, who despite spending most of the season on the bench, still came up with vital goals in a number of games, the mixture was just right.
Now at home in their brand new state-of-the-art 44,000 capacity stadium, more potential investment to come and a Serie A title in their pockets, could we finally see a European revival from the two time European Cup winners? That remains to be seen, but for now the Italian giants will be toasting themselves on a job well done.
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