By Marc Serber
While derbies are usually battles between teams from the same city, the matches between Inter Milan and Juventus have become a derby throughout time for one simple reason:
They are two of the most successful squads in Italy and almost every match is a six pointer with title implications.
It is that success and an atmosphere of pressure, which have created a heated and acrimonious clash that rivals any derby around the world whether established along geographical, social or political lines.
Appropriately dubbed the “Derby d’Italia” by the late Italian journalist Gianni Brera in 1967, the Juventus v. Internazionale (Relax Inter fans, I only put Juve first because they are the home team Saturday night) is the most played fixture in Italian history. The match pits the two most successful and supported clubs throughout the peninsula.
As Paolo Bandini once wrote in the Guardian about past fixtures, “This game was about much more than just league standings,” explaining that when Berera designated the match the Derby d’Italia, it was already “characterized by at least as much passion and animosity as any cross-city derby.”
Hostility and bad blood runs thick between Juve and Inter supporters and players alike. Unlike other derbies, which are perhaps relying on their historical value rather than recent fixtures, it seems new wood is thrown on the Derby d’Italia fire before old embers even have time to burn out.
In 1961, fans invaded the pitch forcing officials to abandon the match. The league awarded the match to Inter, but an appeal board overturned the decision forcing a replay. Furious, Inter fielded a youth squad and predictably suffered a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Juventus first XI.
The ramifications of this match went much further than the Juve and Inter camps. Down south, Sampdoria striker Sergio Brighenti could do nothing as Juve’s Imar Sívori smashed six goals in the replay to make him the “capocannoniere” (Top scorer in the Italian League). Sívori duly replaced Brighenti as Italy’s candidate for the Ballon D’or. Sívori took home the award for Europe’s best player while Juventus won the Scudetto. Inter finished 3rd, five points behind Juve and, almost as painful, one point behind city rivals Milan.
Fast forward to April 26, 1998, and one of the most controversial derbies of all time sprung the Derby d’Italia to new heights- a match which many Inter fans feel was a certain prelude to the events of 2006. Inter and Juve met with just three games to go. The Bianconeri (Juve) held a slim one point margin over the Nerazzurri (Inter) in the table. With Juve leading 1-0 courtesy of a Del Piero special in the 21st minute, Inter was in desperate search of an equalizer late in the match when all hell broke loose.
Played in by Inter’s Ivan Zamorano, Ronaldo was bearing down on goal only to be clattered into by Juventus defender Mark Iuliano. Referee Piero Ceccarini astonishingly waved play on and in a matter of seconds the ball found its way to Del Piero in the other box. The Juve striker went to ground under a challenge from Taribo West. This time the man in the middle pointed to the spot. While Inter keeper Pagliuca saved Del Piero’s spot shot, the damage had been done.
Ceccarini was at the forefront of the controversy again when he showed Ze Elias a red card for leading with his elbow, reducing Inter to 10 men. Earlier in the match however, he did nothing to punish Juve’s Edgar Davids for attacking Diego Simeone.
The match finished 1-0, and Juventus took the title leaving half of Milan feeling that they had been robbed.
The controversy of that match carried over from the pitch and the terraces, as shortly after, Italy’s parliament had to be suspended when deputies became violent during an argument over the match.
Cue the events of 2006...
One last stop, however, as March 2nd, 2003 served as a reminder of how crucial this tie can be. Inter and Juventus went into this particular derby tied on 48 points. Juve ran out 3-0 winners on this particular occasion and never looked back as they went on to win the title. One can’t say this match didn’t have a profound effect on Inter, which never recovered.
Back to 2006 when the Calciopoli (or Moggiopoli, both great names) scandal broke.
The short version is that Juventus- and its owner Luciano Moggi- were the ring leaders. Along with Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina, they were found guilty of rigging matches through a complex network of relationships between team officials and referee organizations.
Ultimately, Juventus was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 titles, relegated to Seria B where they had to start with a nine point deficit and was forced to play three matches behind closed doors.
The 2006 title was awarded to Internazionale and for the first time in Serie A history, Juventus and Inter would not be participating together at the top level of Italian Football.
Meanwhile, Juve’s influential players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira jumped the Old Lady’s sinking ship for... Inter.
Inter fans felt that “La Vecchia Signora- the Old Lady of Turin” was getting her just desserts, while Juve fans were furious at Inter for taking not only their titles, but their players in the process.
In fact, many Juve fans blame their rivals for breaking the scandal wide open.
In his column in the Guardian, Bandini stated that, “Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, have pointed to the fact that Telecom Italia- the company who caught out Luciano Moggi - were at the time run by Marco Tronchetti Provera, president of Inter’s sponsor Pirelli.”
While Juventus has had to claw its way out of Serie B and back into the elite in both Italy and Europe, Inter has yet to lose the Scudetto, taking their total to 17, tying their city rivals AC Milan. The Nerazzurri, however, are very aware of the fact that they are still 10 titles behind their hated rivals from Turin.
The Derby d’Italia returned with a bang in the 2007-2008 season. Every match since has either been a tie or decided by one goal.
Stars rise to prominence in derbies and the latest in a long line is Inter’s mercurial talent Mario Balotelli. In last year’s January 30th Coppa Italia quarter final second leg clash, the Palermo born son of Ghanaian immigrants announced his arrival with the first and game winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory which propelled Inter into the Semi’s at the Old Lady’s expense.
Sadly, as Saturday night approaches, Balotelli is at the forefront of the buildup for all the wrong reasons. Racist chants towards Balotelli from Juventus fans forced authorities to consider playing this derby at a neutral ground. Instead Juve were fined a paltry 20,000 Euros for their fans behavior.
Inter captain Javier Zanetti has said he will direct his team off the field at the first sight or sound of racist or abusive behavior from the stands. The skipper has the full backing of the Italian Players Association.
In much the same fashion, Mariella Scirea, wife of the late legendary Inter and Italy defender Gaetano Scirea, had a letter published in “La Stampa” and Juventus’ official website. In her letter, Scirea pleads for the fans to behave in the memory of her husband for which a stand is named where many die hard fans sit.
“Stadiums are not theaters but they must not become shallow. A stand that bears the name of Gaetano Scirea should be double committed to bring forth a battle, free of demagogy, and have as the main objective the collective intent of canceling damaging and vulgar chants. All: without distinction.”
Back to the match itself, and the war of words is well and truly on between the two teams. Inter defender Marco Materazzi (remember the guy who got under Zidane’s skin?) got the party started when he claimed that Juventus may be the stronger side technically, but they “choke at key moments.”
Materazzi even went as far to say that playing Juventus is just another match, just like playing Livorno.
While Materazzi is always up for a good trash talking session, Juventus players are trying not to get sucked in. Instead, The Bianconerri are trying to focus on themselves. The players hope a victory over Inter will be the catapult they need to get back on the right track following a week in which they lost 2-0 both to Bordeaux in Europe and Cagliari in Serie A.
Fabio Cannavaro summed up the Juventus camp’s approach when he was quoted on goal.com as saying, “I repeat, I don't like to make comparisons with Inter. Looking at other people's houses resolves little. Many things have happened in the last few years, but to get back to being on top we need to think about ourselves..."
With the shock reverse at Cagliari, Juventus slumped to eight points behind leaders Inter and a solitary point behind second place Milan. Pundits believe, however, that this is the first year since the Calciopoli scandle that La Vecchia Signora has a squad capable of challenging the Nerazzurri for the Scudetto.
If Juventus can take all three points at the Stadio Olimpico, Juve’s title challenge will be back on track, and the two squads from Milan will need to keep a vigilant eye over their shoulders.
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