Over the past few seasons, Inter vs Napoli has come to be once again a battle than can decide the fate of the title race in Serie A. But what used to be a regular heavyweight clash towards the end of the 1980s had progressively turned into a lackluster mid-table affair in the middle of the following decade.
When they met in Serie A on February 11, 1996, both Inter and Napoli were gasping for breath in a campaign that was being dominated by Milan and that would end with Fabio Capello winning the fourth Scudetto in five seasons with the Rossoneri.
Inter dismantled the Partenopei 4-0 with two braces from their strikers Maurizio Ganz and Marco Branca. It was one of the few rays of light in a season that started in a disastrous fashion, with the Nerazzurri eliminated by Swiss minnows Lugano in a UEFA Cup first round match-up.
Still, the Inter fans could harbor some hopes about good things to come as the club was just going through a massive renovation plan after a string of disappointing league finishes. Their new owner was Massimo Moratti, the son of the legendary Angelo who was at the helm during the years of the Grande Inter (1962-1966).
Moratti was obviously a lifelong fan of the Beneamata and, moreover, he had some cash to splash. His first transfer market campaign was lavish and served as a good appetizer for what would happen a couple seasons later, when no less than the Fenomeno Ronaldo landed in Appiano Gentile.
Moratti’s first market hits were future icon Javier Zanetti, English pit bull Paul Ince, and this young Brazilian left back named Roberto Carlos (the story of his short stint at Inter would deserve a full article itself but we won’t dwell into that today).
The chairman’s most audacious move, however, was putting in charge English coach Roy Hodgson. Moratti had a good memory as he may have remembered that, only a few years earlier, Hodgson had eliminated the Inter dei Record from the European Cup when coaching Malmo of Sweden.
Despite such an upheaval in the roster and at the helm though, the most positive notes from a troubled season ended up being two new strikers who were not expected to be at the top of the pecking order: Maurizio Ganz from Atalanta and Marco Branca from Roma. Branca joined in the winter window when the season already appeared compromised, and it was clear that Moratti’s project needed a few years to take off.
But what about Napoli then? The Partenopei’s current situation was no less dim. Coach Vujadin Boskov was literally squeezing the last drops out of a club whose 1980s glory was fading.
Their winning president Corrado Ferlaino was still in charge, but financial troubles had started to catch up with him, to the point that he had been forced to sell their young, home-grown gem Fabio Cannavaro to Parma in the summer.
Napoli would end the 1995/96 season with the worst attack in Serie A, scoring only 28 goals and failing to find the net in 15 occasions despite featuring some young and promising strikers like Arturo Di Napoli and Carmelo Imbriani. They also had top-flight veteran Massimo Agostini upfront, but the Condor was well past his prime by now.
Imbriani had scored in the reverse fixture against Inter, helping Napoli win 2-1. But, when the two sides squared off again in February, Boskov left him on the bench together with Di Napoli.
The game at the San Siro was an absolute mismatch as Inter walked all over their opponents. Early on, Roberto Carlos gave a sample of his free kick taking abilities with a brutal screamer from sidereal distance, but Napoli’s goalie Pino Taglialatela managed to tip it over the bar.
Inter needed to redeem themselves after a shameful 0-1 loss in Piacenza the previous week and their start was relentless. Branca missed an incredible chance from a Salvatore Fresi pass but he made up for it in the second half.
On 33 minutes, Roberto Carlos whipped the ball in the box from the left side. Branca failed to connect with it, but Ganz was right past him and ready to tap the ball in to open the scoring for the Beneamata. Ganz was no man to miss such chances. During his prime days, he went by the no-nonsense moniker of El segna semper lu (translated from Lombardian dialect, it roughly goes as “he-is-the-one-who-always-scores”).
In the second half, defender André Cruz knocked Ince down in the box, prompting referee Pierluigi Pairetto to allow a penalty. Ganz made no mistake from the spot, scoring his second of the day and his ninth league goal (he would add four more to his tally before the end of the season).
At that point, Boskov decided to send Imbriani in, but it was already too late. On 68 minutes, Branca connected with Benito Carbone and found the back of the net with a perfectly timed finish, opening his goalscoring account with the Nerazzurri. After Fausto Pari picked a red card for Napoli, Branca made it four for the home side, heading the ball home from a corner kick.
Once the hammering was over, Boskov resorted to his fabled humor to comment on the rout in his post-match remarks: “Thank God we lost only 0-4, and not 0-5.”
Arturo Di Napoli, on the other hand, was asked whether things could have been different if both him and Imbriani had played from the start. His reply was sorrowful: “Only Maradona could have changed things today. But he’s not playing with us anymore.”
Perhaps, that was exactly the problem with Napoli. They were a club living in the past as the future was getting darker and darker. The following season, the Partenopei would be relegated and start the worst decade in their history.
February 11, 1996 – Serie A 1995-96 Round 21
INTER – NAPOLI 4-0
SCORERS: 33′ Ganz, 57′ Ganz pen., 68′ Branca, 80′ Branca
|INTER: Pagliuca; J. Zanetti, Roberto Carlos, Festa, Fresi; M. Paganin, Pistone (79′ Bianchi), Ince; B. Carbone (86′ D. Fontolan), Ganz, Branca (Landucci, Bergomi, Cinetti) Coach: Hodgson
NAPOLI: Taglialatela; Ayala, Tarantino, Bordin, Cruz; Buso, Boghossian (28′ Di Napoli), Pizzi, Pecchia, Pari; Agostini (57′ Imbriani) (Di Fusco, Baldini, Altomare) Coach: Boskov
REFEREE: Mr. Pairetto from Nichelino
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Fresi, Ince (I), Ayala, Cruz, Boghossian (N); Red Card: Pari (N)