Throwback Thursday: Van Basten and Milan’s New Fatal Verona

Marco Van Basten removing his shirt and throwing it to the ground. The Swan of Utrecht sent off by referee Rosario Lo Bello, together with teammates Franklin Rijkaard, Alessandro Costacurta and even coach Arrigo Sacchi. The surreal images of Milan’s second Fatal Verona are painfully stuck in any Rossonero’s mind, remembering him of that April 22, 1990, when Silvio Berlusconi’s club lost 1-2 to the Gialloblu to throw away a Scudetto they seemed very close to winning.

Milan shockingly fell at the last hurdle, and once again in the city of Romeo and Juliet. Just like 17 years earlier, when they had thrown another Scudetto out of the window in the very last match-day succumbing to Verona in the most unexpected way.

But if the original Fatal Verona from 1973 had allowed Il Diavolo no chance for recrimination, as they were literally dominated by the Scaligeri, the defeat in 1990 left the red-and-blacks with a particularly bad taste in their mouth, giving way to Diego Maradona’s Napoli to celebrate their second Italian title.

Milan felt deceived, penalized, and ultimately defrauded of a Scudetto which, if truth be told, they wouldn’t even hope to be battling for in the autumn of 1989: The Rossoneri had lost 4 out of their 10 initial games, conceding points even to relegation-battling Ascoli and Cremonese. But then, they had started an irresistible progression which had made them dethrone the Partenopei from the driving seat of the league table.

Napoli had however regained the top position, in cohabitation with the Milanese, thanks to a most controversial court ruling eventually dubbed as the case of la monetina di Alemao (“Alemao’s coin”).

To quickly summarize a notorious incident which would deserve a dedicated Throwback itself, Napoli’s midfielder Alemao was hit by a coin thrown by Atalanta supporters in a game ended in a goalless draw. The Brazilian suffered what looked like a superficial wound, but back in the days, a club could claim a game by forfeit if one of their players was forced to leave the pitch because of the opponent tifosi‘s violence.

As an apparently healthy Alemao was hastily carried to the hospital, the Italian Court of Arbitration for Sports eventually awarded Napoli a 2-0 win by forfeit. And so, on the day of the third-to-last round of Serie A 1989-90, Milan and Napoli found themselves sharing the top spot in the table with 47 points each. Milan were due to pay a visit to Verona at their Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium, while the Partenopei were awaited in Bologna.

Verona were almost certain to be relegated, and their hopes were hanging by a thread. The game took a positive turn for President Berlusconi’s side in the 33rd minute, as a long-range free-kick by Marco Simone caught by surprise future Azzurro Angelo Peruzzi, who was then a 20-year-old good prospect in his first season as starting goalkeeper.

Marco Simone’s illusory goal for Milan in the day of their Fatal Verona: Simone was 21-year-old, goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi only 20. They would both go on to spend multiple seasons in the Italian top flight

But things soon started to take a psychodramatic turn for the Rossoneri. Daniele Massaro fell in Verona’s box after clashing with an opponent defender, an ambiguous contact which referee Rosario Lo Bello didn’t deem enough for a penalty. Marco Van Basten was also pushed down in the box a few minutes later. Lo Bello didn’t blow his whistle in this case either, and coach Arrigo Sacchi hit the ceiling, prompting the Sicilian referee to send him off.

From a corner kick by Pietro Fanna, Milan were punished by a “high jump” by Sotomayor. No, not the legendary track and field star Javier Sotomayor, who three years later would set up a still unbeaten high jump world record. This was Victor, an unknown Argentinian defender who spent two seasons in Verona and scored two goals: One of them was this powerful header that rebalanced the match and made the Rossoneri’s legs start to shake.

In the 82nd minute, Franklin Rijkaard received a second yellow card. Years later, referee Rosario Lo Bello recalled that the nervous Dutchman had spat at him twice, hitting one of his shoes the second time. Rijkaard would indeed give a clear sample of his spitting skills a few months later as he would fire a nasty saliva bolt at German international Rudolf Voller during a World Cup 1990 match.

Then it was Marco Van Basten’s turn to be sent to the locker room before full time. A bizarre expulsion, the one of the unforgotten Swan. With three minutes left, referee Lo Bello called a seemingly regular foul against him in the midfield area. Van Basten’s reaction was baffling. Something must have suddenly broken in his mind, as the Swan of Utrecht – perhaps annoyed at the penalty previously disallowed, perhaps nervous because of the multiple fouls called against him – reacted by removing his shirt and throwing it to the ground in protest.

Marco Van Basten stood there incredulous, resigned to fate, half-naked in his undershirt until Lo Bello urged him to leave the pitch. It was the image of Milan giving up their Scudetto hopes.

The Rossoneri’s suicide was certified two minutes later by Davide Pellegrini, who stunned a nine-man Milan side dancing along the offside line – the ultimate mockery, in the days of Franco Baresi and his perfect offside trap mechanism – to lob the ball past goalie Andrea Pazzagli. Defender Alessandro Costacurta was desperate: “You are crooked!,” he shouted at Lo Bello. He got a red card in return, the fourth for the Rossoneri in that infamous day.

Napoli won 4-2 in Bologna, decisively distancing Milan thanks to the unexpected help of the hatred Veronesi (there is a long-lasting feud between the Gialloblu and the Partenopei supporters…). Verona’s exploit, on the other hand, was not enough to avoid relegation, which became official the following week.

Milan’s “consolation prize,” so to say, was their second European Cup in a row, which they would conquer one month later in Vienna as they beat Benfica 1-0. A great achievement indeed, but still not enough to drive away from the recurring nightmare of the Fatal Verona, whose silent memory still plagues the most aged Rossoneri fans every time they come back to sit in the stands of the Marc’Antonio Bentegodi Stadium.

MATCH REPORT

April 22, 1990 – Serie A 1989-90 Round 32
VERONA-MILAN 2-1

SCORERS: 33′ Simone (M), 63′ Sotomayor (V), 89′ Pellegrini (V)

VERONA: Peruzzi, Pusceddu, Sotomayor, Favero, Gutierrez, Giacomarro, Gaudenzi (80′ Magrin), Prytz, Gritti, Pellegrini, Fanna (72′ Bertozzi) (Bodini, Calisti, Iorio) Coach: Bagnoli
MILAN: Pazzagli, Tassotti, Costacurta, Maldini, Rijkaard, Baresi, Evani (67′ Colombo), Donadoni, Massaro, Van Basten, Simone (59′ Gullit) (Galli, Salvatori, Stroppa) Coach: Sacchi

REFEREE: Mr. Lo Bello from Siracusa
NOTES: Red Cards: Sacchi, Rijkaard, Van Basten, Costacurta (M)

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