Pazza Inter. Crazy Inter. No club in Italy can take their fans on a rollercoaster of emotions like the Nerazzurri. A team capable of enduring the most frustrating trophy-winning droughts – often falling right at the last hurdle – but at the same time able to perform the most incredible and exciting comebacks.
It must not have been easy to be an Inter fan during the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s decades when the black-and-blues were subject to a sort of inferiority complex versus the other traditional Italian football powerhouses. Not as dominant domestically as Juventus, not as successful internationally as their cross-town rivals Milan, the only thing the Nerazzurri could boast was the fact that they were the only Italian club to never have suffered a relegation.
Mai in Serie B (“Never In Serie B”) was a sort of reverent mantra Inter fans used to resort to during the mid-90s hard days when President Massimo Moratti’s club couldn’t catch more than a few UEFA Cups now and then.
But Inter’s unique appeal lies in the fact that, with the Nerazzurri, you never really know what to expect and what is going to happen. Their games are never boring. That’s why they probably have such a peculiar charm.
A game that truly exemplifies the unpredictable nature of Inter is their epic comeback of January 9, 2005, when they were down 0-2 to Sampdoria at the San Siro with just 7 minutes to go, but managed to recover and collect an incredible 3-2 win thanks to the efforts of an offensive trident featuring Christian Vieri, Obafemi Martins, and Alvaro Recoba.
That was Roberto Mancini’s first version of Inter. The current Azzurri coach had been called by president Massimo Moratti after a disappointing previous season, during which Alberto Zaccheroni had replaced Hector Cuper. The former Mallorca and Valencia coach’s sacking certified the failure of yet another re-foundation project at Inter and another disappointment for their fan base, who had not seen a Scudetto for 16 years by now.
Mancini’s project, however, was struggling to take off. Seventeen games into the season, the Nerazzurri had yet to lose a game. Too bad that, out of the 17 matches played, they had tied 12 (!) – a very frustrating outcome, in perfect Inter-style.
So, when Inter received Sampdoria in January 2005, the Scudetto race seemed already a matter between Milan and Juventus, and the Nerazzurri could only be battling for a best-case-scenario third place.
Inter’s attacking duo for the day, featuring Christian Vieri and Adriano Ribeiro Leite – whose performances were peaking – was such a combination of pure power that it should have been deemed illegal to have in a single football team. But the two found Sampdoria’s goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli in great shape to deny their scoring attempts, as well as those from Matias Cambiasso and Turkish midfielder Emre Belozoglu.
Galvanized by their keeper’s heroics, Sampdoria managed to control Inter and took the lead towards the end of the first half with a goal from their left-back Max Tonetto. As defender Ivan Cordoba lost him, Tonetto received a cross from the right flank and put the ball past Francesco Toldo with a clever left-foot touch.
Things didn’t change after the break. As he got more and more frustrated, Mancini added a third striker with Obafemi Martins. The then 20-year-old Nigerian was quite a sensation back in the days and seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. He would, however, never fully live up to his potential. Mancini also substituted Adriano with Alvaro Recoba, one who was pretty good at making a difference when starting the game from the bench.
Mancini’s change didn’t have any effect, however, and things got worse when the Nerazzurri were punished by a wonderful counterattack finalized by Vitali Kutuzov. What made it even worse was that Kutuzov came from Milan. He was a Belarusian forward who Milan had brought to Italy after facing him during a UEFA Cup match.
That was enough. Even that ephemeral record of 0 losses in the league was about to fall. It looked like one of those days (and yet, one of those seasons) for Inter, as many disappointed fans started leaving the San Siro. There were only seven minutes left and they had seen enough. If only they knew what was coming…
Inter still had something to say. How did they find the strength and motivation, we will never know. Alvaro Recoba led the comeback with a screamer which ended its run into Francesco Antonioli’s post, shaking his side from an 86-minute-long numbness.
One minute later, Martins used his guile to deceive the Sampdoria keeper with a left-foot shot after swiftly dribbling his marker, as Inter kept attacking. Sampdoria’s coach Walter Novellino banged his fist on the bench, furious at his boys’ loss of concentration. Let’s not lower our guard, guys. Oh, he was so right.
From then on, it was pure chaos. Inter pushed 10 men into the opposition box, in a full athletic trance. The Nerazzurri frantically protested when referee Paolo Bertini did not sanction Aimo Diana’s handball in Samp’s area. Obafemi Martins’ disappointed face as he understood the penalty was disallowed, with Diana almost comforting him, was priceless (check minute 2:27 in the video below).
The young Nigerian was not having it, however. One minute into stoppage time, he pounced on a ball which seemed destined past the end line and, as Antonioli run towards him, pushed it back into the middle of the box with an overhead kick. Christian Vieri then put it into the untended goal to score Inter’s second.
With his side now playing in berserk mode, Dejan Stankovic served the ball to Alvaro Recoba, whose running shot from out of the box swirled past Antonioli and certified Inter’s incredible comeback as those lucky supporters loyal enough to stay until the end of the game ecstatically celebrated on the stands.
Nobody could believe it. Inter had canceled a two-goal deficit to make the full score in just five minutes. It was an exploit that wouldn’t serve any purpose, as the Nerazzurri expectedly ended in the third place of the table. But, as Inter beat Sampdoria 3-2, their non-losing record could last a little more and, boy, that was one of those days when it was really worth to be an Interista!
January 9, 2005 – Serie A 2004-05 Round 18
SCORERS: 43’ Tonetto (S), 83’ Kutuzov (S), 88’ Martins (I), 91′ Vieri (I), 92′ Recoba (I)
|INTER (4-3-1-2): Toldo; J. Zanetti, Cordoba, Materazzi, Favalli; C. Zanetti (64′ Martins), Cambiasso, Stankovic; Emre (83’ Karagounis); Vieri, Adriano (77’ Recoba) (Fontana, Burdisso, Coco, Zé Maria) Coach: Mancini|
|SAMPDORIA (4-4-2): Antonioli; C. Zenoni, Castellini, Falcone (58’ Pavan), Diana, Volpi, Palombo, Tonetto, Flachi (90′ Carrozzieri), Rossini (73’ Kutuzov) (Turci, Pagano, Donadel, Edusei) Coach: Novellino|
REFEREE: Mr. Bertini from Arezzo
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Cordoba, Stankovic (I), Volpi, Rossini (S)