Milan should have been dead and buried early on when they were caught flat-footed by the speed and angles of Roma’s attack, with Francesco Totti elusive up front and defenders Philippe Mexes and Christian Panucci frequently joining in the fun.
Roma are a team who seem to hate the idea of passing sideways, constantly looking to play the ball “vertically” as they say in Italy. Milan couldn’t get near them for the first half-hour, with Kaka isolated and Ronaldo and Cafu completely at sea.
But then the storm seemed to blow itself out.
Totti began to fade, and the Roma full-backs were caught short of pace and out of position.
Behind to an early strike from Mexes, Milan equalised with a back header from Alberto Gilardino that should have left him with a neck sprain. However, Gilardino’s long-awaited return to form was shortlived, as he then somehow contrived to miss the chance of the night after being set up by Kaka.
It would have been a travesty had Milan won the game, but they showed that their experience and resilience still make them a hard side to beat.
Roma on the other hand played some glorious football but then ran out of steam. Their coach Luciano Spalletti seemed content afterwards, as he looked forward to the game against Manchester United.
“The lads did everything they were meant to, we showed that we are in an excellent condition physically.
“Now we need to manage the next three days with intelligence so that on Wednesday we can produce another performance as good as this evening’s.”
Spalletti is one of the shrewdest coaches around and, reading between the lines a bit, he does seem to be concerned about his team’s inability to pace themselves.
Against Fiorentina the other day they ended looking the more tired side despite enjoying the advantage of an extra man for more than half the match. Against Milan, despite a brief second-half flurry, they were unable to raise their game at all towards the end.
The other encouragement for United fans will be that with full back Max Tonetto injured, it looks as though Panucci will switch to left back, which should be an open invitation for
Cristiano Ronaldo. Spalletti seems reluctant to play Christian Chivu there, although the Romanian originally made his name in that position.
Among the throng at the Stadio Olimpico was the new head of the Italian football federation (FIGC) Giancarlo Abete, who was formally elected to office yesterday. It’s the third change within 12 months, following the appointment of two emergency commissioners in the wake of the match-fixing scandal.
Abete is not exactly an outsider. He was deputy-president under the old regime and therefore might be considered tainted, but he does have a record of independence, willingness to accept new ideas, and above all, honesty.
The return to normality also helps to restore Italy’s battered image just in time for UEFA’s decision on where to hold the 2012 European Championships. The announcement is expected on April 18.
In Germany, Bayern Munich’s revival under Otmar Hitzfeld continues.
On Saturday, Roy Makaay scored against leaders Schalke 04 in the third minute, slow by comparison with the 10 seconds it took him against Real Madrid but just as demoralising for the opposition. Hasan Salihamidzic added a second to seal the points for the Bavarian giants.
“We didn’t concede a goal, which gives us more calmness and confidence for Tuesday,” said Hitzfeld after the game. It seems his insistence on Sebastian Schweinsteiger operating on the left, where he can link effectively with Phillip Lahm at full back, is now paying off.
Star Trek fans will be glad to hear that Bayern’s keeper remains as irascible as ever, lashing out at Schalke substitute Soren Larsen. “It looked more like boxing than football,” commented his club president Franz Beckenbauer, but Kahn was merely booked by referee Herbert Fandel.
He may have felt lenient as Kahn is definitely suspended for tonight’s first leg in the San Siro, which means that those looking forward to the next showing of The Wrath Of Kahn will have to wait until after Easter.