The first post-COVID 19 Italian trophy ended in Gennaro Gattuso’s hands. Napoli won the Coppa Italia 2020 beating Juventus on penalties after a nil-nil draw and a frankly forgettable game.
In retrospect, perhaps playing the Final only a few days after the Semi-Final bouts was not a great idea, as the showdown at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome turned into a festival of errors and resulted in a very slow-paced game. It probably couldn’t have been any different, considering the three-month break induced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 50th anniversary of the so-called Game of The Century – the World Cup Semi-Final between Italy and West Germany played in Mexico City on June 17, 1970 – called for a different kind of celebration, but perhaps in COVID times, this is all we could ask for.
The Italian Football Federation’s idea was to assign a trophy before restarting the Serie A to offer a quick rush of adrenaline to calcio lovers after 96 days of forced abstinence from football. A noble purpose which, however, ended up backfiring as both clubs evidenced a clear lack of condition and match-pace – having played just three days earlier.
The virtual supporters recreated on the stands of an empty Stadio Olimpico did little to enhance the show, making the game similar to a console videogame match where even the designated singer of the Italian National Anthem chocked on emotions before kick-off and forgot the anthem words during his performance. Not a great start, and perhaps a premonition of what was going to happen.
And so, also due to the lack of action on the pitch, the Final became simply the match of Gennaro Gattuso. In December, Ringhio inherited from Carlo Ancelotti a team on the verge of a breakdown, barricaded against their own President. Seeing Aurelio De Laurentiis celebrating with their boys at full time, just a few months after their clamorous mutiny and the refusal to go on a training camp, showed how much the former Milan coach must have worked from a mental point of view to put Napoli’s pieces back together.
The Coppa Italia Final was also the game of Alex Meret, the Napoli goalkeeper who had been passed over for David Ospina in the past few months. As the Colombian – the hero of the Semi-Final against Inter – was forced to miss the Final due to a one-match ban, Meret got a redeem chance and made good use of it, saving Paulo Dybala’s first shot during the penalty shootout.
And it was, on the other hand, also the game of Gianluigi Buffon, who at 41 played yet another Final and showed he can still hold his own with a super-save during injury time that kept the score unchanged and sent both teams to penalties – where, by the way, he also confirmed not to be a penalty-stopper as he conceded four goals out of four to Napoli’s designated takers.
Little did happen in the 90 minutes of playing time. Gattuso made three changes in his lineup versus three days ago – Mario Rui in place of Elsiad Hysaj and José Callejon in place of Matteo Politano, on top of his forced goalkeeper change. Maurizio Sarri, who no longer than two years ago was still sitting on Napoli’s bench, opted to swap Danilo for Juan Cuadrado in the right-back position comparing to his Semi-Final game with Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo continued with his inconsistent state of form, only managing to come up with an early shot that forced Alex Meret to dirt his gloves. Paulo Dybala deployed as falso nueve and Douglas Costa on the right flank completed Sarri’s offensive trident, but none of them managed to threaten again Napoli’s goalie before half time.
Napoli’s attacking forces consisted of their famed, “short-sized” trio made by José Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne, and Dries Mertens. While the Spaniard appeared a little out of focus and Lorenzo Il Magnifico was the most dangerous of the three – hitting Buffon’s post from the free-kick spot in the 23rd minute – Ciro Mertens could celebrate his contract renewal for Napoli in the best way despite leaving the pitch before full time.
In the 40th minute, Gigi Buffon saved from Diego Demme, then also deflected Lorenzo Insigne’s curl shot in the very next action. Napoli closed the first half attacking and collected the best chances, despite Juventus maintaining more ball possession. But the Olimpico show was a chain of errors with players from both sides struggling to even shot on target.
From the 64th minute on, the game turned into a waltz of substitutions – a scenario we will have to get used to for the remainder of the season. Maurizio Sarri replaced Douglas Costa with Danilo, advancing Juan Cuadrado from a right-back position to a right-winger one. He quickly aborted the experiment, however, as Aaron Ramsey eventually replaced the Colombian in Juve’s lineup.
Gennaro Gattuso’s answer was reshuffling his front-line with Matteo Politano and Arkadiusz Milik in place of José Callejon and Dries Mertens. Milik had a great chance right after his deployment, but his shot from close to the penalty kick spot hit the empty side stands of the Stadio Olimpico.
Sarri’s next move was pulling off Miralem Pjanic, replacing him with Federico Bernardeschi. Gattuso threw in the mix Allan Marques and then Elif Elmas, with the North Macedonian being the protagonist of Napoli’s clearest scoring chance in the 92nd minute. When Nikola Maksimovic’s header called Buffon to a prodigious save, Elmas failed a tap-in from point-blank range, seeing his shot deflected again by Buffon and then by the post.
The Coppa Italia modified rules dictated no extra-times in case of a draw and, considering what seen so far, it was better like that. The Partenopei won the penalty lottery scoring from all their four attempts, while Juventus missed their first two shots. Alex Meret stopped Paulo Dybala’s challenge, whereas Danilo’s shot ended up in the stands, delivering the Coppa Italia to Gattuso’s reborn Napoli.
June 17, 2020 – Coppa Italia 2019-2020 Final
NAPOLI-JUVENTUS 0-0 4-2 on penalties
PENALTY SEQUENCE: Dybala (J) saved, Insigne (N) goal, Danilo (J) out, Politano (N) goal, Bonucci (J) goal, Maksimovic (N) goal, Ramsey (J) goal, Milik (N) goal
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Mario Rui (79′ Hysaj); Fabian Ruiz (79′ Allan), Demme, Zielinski (87′ Elmas); Callejon (66′ Politano), Mertens (66′ Milik), Insigne (Karnezis, Ghoulam, Llorente, Lozano, Luperto, Manolas, Younes) Coach: Gattuso|
JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Buffon; Cuadrado (84′ Ramsey), Bonucci, De Ligt, Alex Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic (73′ Bernardeschi), Matuidi; Dybala, Ronaldo, Douglas Costa (65′ Danilo) ( Szczesny, Pinsoglio, De Sciglio, Muratore, Olivieri, Rabiot, Rugani, Vrioni, Zanimacchia) Coach: Sarri
REFEREE: Mr. Doveri from Roma
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Mario Rui (N), Bonucci, Dybala (J); Extra Time: 1st Half 1′, 2nd Half 3′