The Oscars may have honored the best of Hollywood Sunday night, but the real entertainment took place half a world away at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza as Inter faced Milan in the Derby della Madonnina. This was a match with numerous highs and lows, filled with subplots, and had heroes and villains that would make any Tinsel Town executive green with envy.
The hype for this match was insurmountable. Some dubbed it the “Balo-derby,” as the main subplot revolved around ex-Inter striker Mario Balotelli facing his former team for the first team since joining Milan. Balotelli said that if he scored, he would celebrate and this brought up concerns and murmurs of how the Curva Nord would react. To ease fears, the Curva Nord released an official statement proclaiming that there would be no racist chants and any racist behavior would be looked down upon. Always the center of attention, Balotelli’s play both on and off the field was the focal point reflecting the intense magnitude and implication of this match.
Both Milanese clubs have gone through turbulent stretches this season, yet both are still in the hunt for the third and final prized Champions League spot. Milan suffered earlier in the season while Inter had a blistering run and now the opposite has taken place as the Nerazzurri have slipped below their fierce city rivals in the league table. Adding to the buildup were the results of both teams’ ventures in Europe, as Inter went through to the next round of the Europa League and Milan were still on a high after beating Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League tie.
Going into this match, the odds were seemingly stacked against Inter. Milan were the sure favorites due to their current form, and more importantly, because they wanted to avenge the derby losses suffered over the last year.
As an Interista, the majority of the first half was horrific to watch. Aside from the first five minutes in which Rodrigo Palacio had a decent chance that he shot wide, Milan slowly took over the game as Inter became disorganized and lost any semblance of shape. Yuto Nagatomo was caught out of position more than once on the right, and it was through this break down in Inter’s defense that Milan scored in the twentieth minute with a Stephan El Shaarawy goal. The match could have been a disaster had it not been for Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who made miraculous saves left, right, up, down, and beyond. Balotelli had solid chances to double the score, but somehow the ball never ended up in the back of the net after Milan went up 1-0.
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni needed to make a change at the half. While he made no substitutions, he swapped both Captain Javier Zanetti and Nagatomo to their more natural positions of right and left back, respectively. The Nerazzurri had to react in a positive manner to get a result from this match, and as they came out of the tunnel as a collective unit, the determination on their faces was apparent. The team seemed sharper and more confident in their abilities, especially as they looked to capitalize on Milan’s inability to score their second goal. Shortly after the restart, Inter had a fantastic chance to level the score line with a Palacio cross to a dashing Fredy Guarin shot at goal, but Milan keeper Christian Abbiati pulled off a fantastic save to deny the Colombian. Strama made his first substitution in the 68th minute as he replaced an exhausted Esteban Cambiasso, who had played the full Europa League midweek match, for the January signing, Ezequiel “El Galgo” Schelotto. El Galgo was making his derby debut, fulfilling a lifelong dream to wear the Nerazzurri shirt of Inter. His impact was instant and was the necessary spark for those wearing black and blue. Not even three minutes had passed when he made his presence known as he headed a Nagatomo cross perfectly into the back of Milan’s net, leveling the score.
The tide had more than turned and either team could have won, with Schelotto almost connecting with the winner. In the end, it finished 1-1 and was the first derby draw since 2004. Even though it was a tie, it was a completely titillating match that showed Inter’s bipolarity this season. Pazza Inter, indeed.
There were two heroes who ascended from the San Siro smoke: Samir Handanovic and Ezequiel Schelotto.
Handanovic’s heroics throughout the first half singlehandedly kept Inter in this game. His performance deservedly won him Man of the Match and he was heralded by some journalists as the best goalkeeper in the world. Always modest, Handanovic quickly discarded those claims by saying there are five or six world class keepers and that it was his job to make saves.
After coming from Atalanta during the winter transfer market, Schelotto has had a somewhat rough time coming into this Inter side. He has not been fully fit and even before his first match with the Nerazzurri against Siena, some boo boys decided that he would be their next target. As aforementioned, it was a dream for him to play for Inter and after he scored, it was obvious how much the derby goal meant to him as he cried tears of joy.
On a more serious note, the villains in this story did not emanate from the pitch. Rather, they were a few rotten seeds amongst nearly 80,000 fans who came to see a sporting spectacle. Despite conflicting reports of widespread racist chanting, those in attendance did not witness any audible or visual racist activities. Regardless of the number of racist incidents, these individuals do not represent Inter with their deplorable actions.
On February 15, 2013, in conjunction with the FIGC, President Massimo Moratti spoke of an anti-racism youth initiative that would be funded primarily by fines incurred from racist chanting from Serie A clubs. Racism does not belong in calcio, or anywhere else for that matter. Unfortunately, it still runs rampant not only in Italy and Europe, but throughout the world.
It is with hope that change will be bolstered by anti-racism educational youth initiatives, statements from Ultras and the clubs themselves as they take a symbolic stand to eradicate racism.
About the author:
An avid Interista, TB has written for numerous football sites such as Unprofessional Foul, Simply Futbol, and Serie A Weekly. She is delighted to be connected with FedeNerazzurra. Follow her on twitter: @SonoTuttoBene