Here we go again.
The collective reaction of Italian football enthusiasts reverberated ahead of Wednesday’s Coppa Italia semifinal when images surfaced of a group of Lazio supporters displaying a banner in tribute to Benito Mussolini while giving fascist salutes.
It didn’t stop there. More evidence came to light of Biancocelesti faithful engaging in racist chants directed at Milan’s Tiémoué Bakayoko before, during, and after the match. While any decent human would agree these types of displays simply do not belong in the sport or society at large for that matter, what has been equally appalling is the silence on the part of Lega Serie A and FIGC authorities.
Lazio released a statement late Wednesday, which hardly did enough to condemn the multiple instances of abhorrent behavior by members of their fan base. The club sought to “distance” themselves from the individuals, claiming their actions go against club values, but the letter also hit out at the media for what they deem to be unfair characterization.
Unfortunately for the players on the field, their stellar second-half performance at San Siro and overall run to the Coppa Italia final has been lost in the toxic cloud left by these acts and the Italian Federation’s inaction. Escaping Italy’s largest stadium with a win is no easy feat, yet Lazio have managed to do it against both occupants in two trips in the competition.
There’s been virtually nothing to separate the sides in their last five meetings—four draws and only three goals scored. Once again, the final result was ever so tight, but Lazio clearly deserved the victory on the day and it could have been by a much healthier margin.
Visiting boss Simone Inzaghi fielded a 3-5-2 opposed to Gennaro Gattuso’s experimental 3-4-3, which ultimately went up in flames before switching to a 4-4-2 when Patrick Cutrone entered in the 65th minute. The match began with both sides out of sync and largely struggling to gain a foothold, and injuries resulted in early exits for Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Milan’s Davide Calabria.
If there’s one thing we learned from the Rossoneri it’s that Pepe Reina still has it. This is once again a compliment to Lazio, who could have strolled out of San Siro with a larger victory if not for the heroics of the home side’s shot-stopper in the second half. As the game went on, Lazio remained comfortable with rather unimaginative Milan possession before springing into life and throwing more numbers forward after winning the ball.
Reina produced a tremendous save on Lucas Leiva’s curling effort from outside the box six minutes into the second stanza and it was virtually all Lazio from there. Luis Alberto, Ciro Immobile, and Joaquin Correa combined with clever flicks and incisive passing to orchestrate dangerous forays forward, and Milan’s keeper was repeatedly up to the task.
Felipe Caicedo replaced Correa in the 74th minute and proved a handful by getting the ball forward with pace and composure in the closing stages. Just two minutes after his substitution, Milan gave Lazio the lone scare of the half when Cutrone found the back of the net but was ruled offside. Thomas Strakosha didn’t have to make a single save, and Correa’s tidy finish from a blistering counter was enough to seal the result.
GOOOAAALLLL!— FloFC (@FloFC_) April 24, 2019
Lazio breaks the tie and goes up 1-0 against AC Milan. Lazio leads on aggregate. pic.twitter.com/LLuGSj2kQM
Inzaghi was full of praise in his postgame comments to Rai Sport, while keeping one eye on the task at hand: achieving a top-four finish and Champions League play next season.
“We reached an amazing goal…we won twice at the San Siro against Inter and AC Milan, but now we need full focus on the remaining Serie A games. Then we will play the final at the Olimpico in front of our fans.”
The Coppa Italia final is set for May 15 in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, and Lazio will face the winner of the Atalanta-Fiorentina matchup. We can only hope that Italian officials finally decide it’s time to deliver swift and harsh punishments and that what happens on the pitch steals the headlines in the capital city.