Story of a great football rivalry.
The Derby of Italy.
Inter and Juventus played last Saturday night their 233th official match, an absolute record for Italian football. This is why the game between the two teams is always keenly awaited and strongly felt. So, it is no accident that, since 1967, it is called the ‘Derby of Italy’.
The verdict of the football field in Milan proclaimed Juventus as winners. The final 2-3, after trailing by one goal until four minutes from the final whistle, gave the Old Lady a victory that is crucial for the pennant battle against Napoli that, with three matches to go, stay 4 points behind the leader. Needless to say, the Derby of Italy has been as usual tight and brought with itself many controversies.
The final score was the result of a pinwheel of emotions throughout the match, due to the contested decisions of the referee and to the unusual competitiveness, as it occurs in few matches of the Italian Serie A. The black-and-white wing Douglas Costa scored the first goal already at the twelfth minute of the first half. Just five minutes later, it was red card for the Inter player Matias Vecino, a decision taken with the use of the VAR, the Video Assistant Referee system that, from this Serie A season, helps referees to review their doubtful decisions. This episode was followed by two hazardous fauls of the Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, pardoned with a yellow card.
During the second half, despite Inter were outnumbered, Mauro Icardi evened the score with a header. Pushed by the great public of the completely sold out San Siro, Ivan Perisic crossed the ball from the sideline, prompting Andrea Barzagli to score an own-goal for the 2-1. However, just in the closing minutes, when Juventus was loosing their hope for victory, another own-goal by Inter’s Milan Skriniar fixed things for the bianconeri.
Juventus didn’t even have a chance to celebrate that, few seconds later, on a free kick, Gonzalo Higuain surprised the Inter defence with a header and scored the winning goal, probably one of the most important of his career and his very first goal in the Derby of Italy. Indeed, the 2-3 final score brings Juventus close to its seventh scudetto in a row, an historical record that has never been achieved before by any Italian football club.
Origins of a rivalry
Inter vs Juventus was named the ‘Derby of Italy’ by the greatest Italian sports journalist of all time: Gianni Brera. The reason of this choice was not, as many believe, that both clubs never got relegated in the Italian second division (known as ‘Serie B’). Indeed, in 1967, when Gianni Brera coined the term, the other Italian giants AC Milan could also boast this primacy that would last until the ’80s. The decision to turn Inter-Juventus into the Derby of Italy was taken because, at that time, both clubs had a richer hall of fame compared to those of their rivals.
Precisely, Juventus had 13 titles, Inter 10, Genoa 9 and AC Milan 8. Thus, Gianni Brera, taking into account the national trophies and not the European ones, attributed this name to the rivarly between the two most supported and loved clubs in Italy, popular well beyond their own cities. Therefore, their matches were always lived as a derby, although these usually feature clubs from the same town. In this specific case, and in the words of the late Gianni Brera, the old parochial rivalry between Turin and Milan, the most representative cities of Northern Italy and national economic drives for the whole 20th century, played a role.
The most meaningful and unforgettable moments of the Derby of Italy are spread out in time, starting from the ’30s, when Inter and Juventus were competing each year for the Italian league. Actually, during the 1966-67 season, the unexpected defeat of Inter against Mantova in the last match of the season, gave Juventus the title after a thrilling pennant race. Only at the end of the ’80s and at the beginning of ’90s, the Derby of Italy went on the back burner for a while, due to the best years of the legendary AC Milan, owned by Silvio Berlusconi.
However, after this short break, the Derby of Italy returned in the hearts of the Italians and on the headlines of the newspapers with the 1997-98 season head-to-head, when a clear penalty by the Juventus defender Mark Iuliano on the Inter legend Ronaldo was not assigned by the referee, creating much of a stir in the press, a media chaos that went even to the Parliament. Then, in the 2001-2002 season, Inter suffered another terrible shock, loosing the league in the same way as in 1967, which is in favor of their eternal rivals due to a defeat in the last match. It was the famous ‘May 5’, when Inter, Juventus and AS Roma all approached the last matchday with chances to win the league. However, the leading Inter lost its match against Lazio, handing over to Juventus its 26th scudetto.
The revenge of the neroazzurri arrived after few years and new spark was put to the rivalry, when the legal consequences of ‘Calciopoli‘, the Italian football scandal of the summer of 2006, sentenced the relegation of Juventus in the second division and assigned by default the pennant won by Juventus to Inter, arrived second in the table, but not involved in any illegal episode. Since then, the Derby of Italy has become an even more intense and tight match, with multiple sporting, social and political meanings.
Turin and Milan
Finally, if one of Milan’s most popular traditions for citizens and tourists, inside the magnificent ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’, is to knock the nuts of the bull (crest of the city of Turin) with a foot and turn around it, it is clear that Inter-Juventus is not only the authentic Derby of Italy, but a neverending story which is beyond football.