Over the last seven or eight years, Roma have developed a reputation as the perennial bridesmaid. While Inter benefited from the Serie A match fixing scandal that saw AC Milan docked points and Juventus dropped down a division by winning five consecutive titles, Roma struggled mostly in vain against financial difficulties to maintain a real challenge.
Games between Roma and Inter had always been hotly contested affairs and the rivalry only intensified when the two were elevated to main title contenders by the scandal. With Roberto Mancini and then Jose Mourinho at the helm, Inter played pragmatic, defensive football; they bullied their way through smaller teams in the league with their intimidating physicality. They were a team in the image of Marco Materazzi, an aggressive, bullying defender. Basically, they were the bad guys.
By default, then, Roma were the good guys. A team striving against poverty, trying to keep up with Inter by throwing caution to the wind and playing quick, attractive, attacking football. If Inter were a team in the image of Materazzi, Roma were modelled on Francesco Totti. Roma were a handsome team, a team with a golden tan, a team born and raised in Rome and engrossed in the history of the club, Serie A’s Byronic hero. They fought for all that was right and good in football even though the odds were stacked up against them.
The two sides met at San Siro in Milan on October 25th 2005 to contest what would be the first of many head to heads between the two main contenders for the title. It was indeed a clash of the titans, Mancini’s defensive, grinding machine coming up against Spalletti’s quick, elusive masterpiece, and the game did not disappoint.
What really stood out to me, though, wasn’t the beauty of the goal, (or the beauty of the man), it was the way Francesco Totti had managed to score the best goal I had ever seen and humiliate almost the entire Inter team in the process
Vincenzo Montella, the Little Aeroplane, one of the most likeable players in Serie A history opened the scoring after 12 minutes with a clipped finish under Julio Cesar and it had begun. A side that thrived on confidence, Roma were beginning to believe. They moved the ball quickly, pulling Inter out of position almost at will.
And then it happened.
Francesco Totti picked up the ball on the halfway line after a misplaced pass and turned towards goal. He weaved his way past two Inter players, leaving them helpless, on the ground, watching him as he continued towards their goal. He cut inside, hair blowing in the wind, glowing golden under the floodlights, and the Inter defence stood off him. “There’s no danger,” they thought, “He’s thirty yards out.”
How wrong they were.
He teased Materazzi and co, pretending that he might strike the ball, buying himself time and space until conditions were perfect. He didn’t look up to check the position of the goalkeeper, he just knew. One deft swing of the right leg later, the movement was complete. The Inter defenders could only watch in horror as the ball floated effortlessly over the top of the despairing dive of Julio Cesar and into the back of the net. It was magic, pure magic. A goal of pure beauty scored by a beautiful man who led a beautiful team.
What really stood out to me, though, wasn’t the beauty of the goal, (or the beauty of the man), it was the way Francesco Totti had managed to score the best goal I had ever seen and humiliate almost the entire Inter team in the process. He stole the ball from their midfield and then left two of them on the floor, he dangled the ball in front of the defenders before snatching it away and scoring in a way that screamed, “I’m better at this game than you will ever be, and I know it.” He didn’t smash an unstoppable strike into the corner, he caught the ‘keeper stranded in no man’s land. He offered a glimmer of hope, the possibility of a save, and then snatched it away. It wasn’t the power of the strike; it was the precision, the genius, the technique with which he guided the ball.
Totti scored again from the spot before Adriano pegged Roma back with two goals in the second half, but it didn’t really matter. Even with the result going their way, Roma finished the season seven points behind Inter and the blueprint for the next five seasons was complete.
While Roma would continue to chase in vain, they will always be remembered in my mind, at least, as the valiant heroes of the piece who fought the good fight but were ultimately overwhelmed by the greater financial clout and aggressive physicality of Inter. Regardless of the trophies, though, regardless of all the success, I will always look back on that goal with wonder and awe. It represents everything that Roma stood for as a football club; it was a victory for technique and ability over physicality, beauty and romance over pragmatism, it was good triumphing over evil, and that’s more than enough for me.
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