Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Cruel Fascination: AC Milan 3-Inter 4

I have to admit that my enthusiasm for a lot of the matches I've been watching of late has been very low. My teams, Barcelona, West Ham, and my dear local club the Timbers--who ended their poor season in September--have all left me feeling exasperated and a bit bewildered. Barcelona are still top of their league and they are far from lousy or anything like that. But when it comes to the big matches, like their Champions League game against Chelsea a couple of weeks ago or last week's disappointing loss in the El Clasico against Real Madrid, the superstar Catalans have looked anxious, indecisive, and more than a bit lost without their star striker, Mr Eto'o. And I won't even get into talking about West Ham--at least until tomorrow--because I can't even grasp the melodramatic turmoil fermenting across the pond at Upton Park. I've tried, I've tried to write about it, and everytime I start a post about the Hammers' dilemma I reach for a book instead--or a last cigarette and a blindfold.

But today, the Italians brought me back. And my peculiar (for me) interest in the Serie A continued to deepen and fascinate. The rivalry between Inter Milan and AC Milan is always a contentious affair (what derby isn't?) and today's match was no big surprise in that respect. But what was a surprise was the amount of goals (seven in all) and the absolute euphoric atmosphere and, more importantly, the courage and unbridled passion from both teams that was on full display down on that glorious pitch.

I've never watched a Milan derby before, so I don't know how it compares to previous matches between these two squads. But I'll go ahead and take at face value what the GolTV commentators exclaimed over and over again by the end of all the drama: this was an absolute classic to be remembered for a long, long time. It sure seemed that way.

I missed the first half due to my very late waking time (it's a long story), but the beginning of the second half was enough to pull me into the storyline and keep me seduced throughout its forty-five minute (and then some) feverdream of a game. At first, I wasn't so sure. Inter was up 2-0 (goals from the fabulous Crespo and Stankovic) and I almost switched off the television, even though I like the lads in blue and black, because I figured it was just going to be a good yet slightly depressing pummelling of Berlusconi's Rossoneri. And when Inter's Ibrahimovic scored a brilliantly brutal and wild goal against Milan's Brazilian keeper Dida within a few minutes into the second half, I was convinced. Fun for a team's supporters, but boring for the relatively neutral spectator like myself (I lean toward Inter, though I have to admit that I have a perverse sort of infatuation with Milan, and I feel dirty, sleazy, and used because of it, but I keep watching nevertheless).

How could a team, even with the deep talent of the Rossoneri, come back now? It seemed impossible and stupid even to contemplate. Milan's fans were stunned and silent. Creepy capitalist-cryptofascist-godfather-devil (redundant, I know) Berlusconi glowered in the stands and I imagine was mentally making a list of what players to torture after the match (Ah, Maldini always looks so pretty with tears in his eyes!) But before the steely-eyed bureaucrat could figure out a way to slip out of the stadium with some dignity intact, Milan's Seedorf restored some honor to the club by scoring in the 50th. Then Inter answered back when everyone's favorite wise-ass and self-proclaimed idiot Materazzi (I don't even know what a terrorist is!) delivered a vicious header and sealed up the game, one could safely assume. Oh, and then Materazzi got red carded for his celebration. How come I wasn't surprised?

At this point I really wouldn't have blamed the Rossoneri for giving up. That they didn't, though, is a testament to the quality and passion of the team. Fired up even more, Milan attacked, attacked, attacked and earned a well-deserved second goal when Gilardino scored again (his first goal was ruled a no-go for offside a few minutes earlier) and then Kaka shot one in during stoppage time. The Rossoneri may not have won the match, but their crusade to regain some respect after such a dispiriting first half was inspiring, entertaining, and memorable to say the least. The Devil may have ultimately betrayed the team's devotion to the dark side, but they were dragged down to Hell with style, flair, and determination--cementing my cruel fascination with this attractive gang of lost souls.


Zach Dundas said...

That was an intense match—the definition of tempestuous. What is it about Serie A? It's not the best football, especially when you get outside the top half-dozen clubs. The clubs themselves aren't the easiest for a non-Italian-speaker to get into. And while there are certainly great, epic rivalries—Roma/Lazio, Inter/AC, Juventus/Everyone—the perverse totalitarian "ultras" vibe isn't as appealing as, say, the hearty atmosphere of the big Premier League derbies. But there is something undeniably riveting about Italian football that no other league has—I can't articulate it, beyond calling it "dark glamour." Not resort to a huge cultural cliche or anything, but Serie A is pure opera, or maybe I should say impure opera, since the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes seems to have as much influence on the outcome as anything done on the pitch.

And is there one player—one single player—anywhere in the game as entertaining as Marco Materazzi? The mind of a hyper-active nine-year-old trapped in the body of a Sicilian debt collector. The man can't step on the field without creating a half-dozen twisted storylines. Forget the "Beckham Rule"—MLS should import this guy to play for Red Bull or Chicago.

Lynda said...

Yeah, I officially take back everything I ever said about Serie A being boring. I'm finding myself increasingly fascinated by it this year, for all the reasons you mention, Zach.

linda said...

I totally agree with Zach about Materazzi (or as his fangirls call him, Matrix). Personally I was predisposed to dislike him because I love Zizou, but he's just so much fun to watch.

It's really unfortunate that I've also got an attraction to the way Milan knock the ball about, given - as you pointed out - their creepiness. Inter get points for having no less than 7 Argentinean players, and hilariously entertaining people like Materazzi and Ibra. But their long-ball tactics...not so much.

(By the way thanks for that Berlusconi-Maldini joke, Derek. I'm scarred for life, but laughing helplessly.)