Well, that was uneventful ... until it suddenly wasn’t.
After 80 minutes of a cagey struggle Tuesday night, Juventus and Inter Milan delivered some late-game fireworks in their first leg Coppa Italia semifinal matchup, as they drew level 1-1 at the Juventus Stadium.
It’s a bummer of a result for Juve fans considering how close they were to sealing the win, but I can’t lie and say that the equalizer was completely undeserved as it was a fairly even game overall.
With this result is everything to play for in a couple of weeks time in Milan. It’s the business end of the 2022-23 season in full swing, people, so it’s time to look alive.
Defensive Player of the Week: Danilo
Not to relitigate the Joao Cancelo-Danilo swap deal for the umpteenth time, but it is insane that the so-called “throwaway” player in said deal is at worst a top three performer for this team day-in and day-out.
The Danilo revival tour had another stop Tuesday night, as he was his usual great self and a big part of why Juventus managed to contain the Inter attack for pretty much the entire match.
He was calm, cool and collected on the ball and decisive on the defensive end. His switch to center back in a three-man backline looks every day more and more like a genius move by Max Allegri. A move that turned him from pretty solid if not unspectacular fullback to outstanding player and captain of this club (now that Leonardo Bonucci barely plays). That’s good stuff all around.
(It’s worth noting that Cancelo is currently in loan limbo at Bayern Munich, because there are only so many times you can suck at defense before even Premier League teams take notice. Become a winger, Joao, honestly just do it.)
The Johnny Square Experience: Unplugged
If this wasn’t the Juan Cuadrado game to end all Juan Cuadrado games.
From the glory of celebration for his 300th cap for the club (!!!) before kickoff to scoring a clutch goal late and almost securing a win against a rival. (Something that he has done so many times before for this club that it’s hard to keep count.)
To the hellish depths of getting himself red carded after the final whistle for getting in the face of Inter keeper Samir Handanovic and just losing it on the guy during the wild fracas at the end of the game. All the while going through all the good, bad and maddening that Juan Cuadrado usually goes through in any regular old game.
I’ve gone through pretty much the entire cycle in my relationship with Cuadrado through the years. Excitement when he arrived from Chelsea after Juve failed to sign him from Fiorentina a summer before and he was still an ankle breaking exciting, pacy winger.
To quiet frustration as he struggled to adapt to fullback/wingback/hybrid roles during the final years of Allegri’s first stint and the Maurizio Sarri era. Which turned to gushing admiration as he learned the ropes and became pretty good at the position.
Earlier in the year, it was all quiet hesitation as he seemed like he had lost a step and the end was near, back to fondness and gratitude for his longer than you thought stint as a Juve player and the fact that when rested he can still bring it on occasion.
Say what you will about the Square man, but one thing you can never say about him as a Bianconero is that he was boring.
The one thing that I could never quite make sense of Matthijs de Ligt’s game when he was a Juve player was his inexplicable propensity to commit handballs that directly led to penalty kicks.
He was great at pretty much everything else, but every once in a while he would just get a case of handball-itis and it seemed like his hands and arms had football-attracting magnets attached to them. He never seemed to me like a particularly clumsy player or that he had bad form when defending. They mostly seemed like freak occurrences but they happened so often that it left you thinking that maybe there was something he was actively doing to be giving away so many PK’s to the opposition due to the same issue.
De Ligt came and went, but against Inter, Juve was once again struck by a brilliant defender giving away a dumb as rocks handball to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
(OK, snatch a draw from the jaws of victory, but still.)
Bremer had just as good a game as anyone else for 90-plus minutes ... until a clumsy clearance attempt went as bad as it could have possibly gone, gift-wrapping Inter — who had mostly failed to do much of anything offensively — a clear-cut penalty kick in the dying minutes of the match.
Romelu Lukaku converted the PK, so we are now sitting here talking about a frustrating tie instead of a decent win. Bremer is too good for these things to happen to him consistently, so I feel safe in saying that he’ll bounce back, hopefully with a shutdown performance in the second leg.
Parting Shot of the Week
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that a big reason why there was a skirmish at the end of the game was the now-confirmed racist chants levied at Lukaku from a small group of Juventus fans in the stands.
Rivalry in sports is a common thing. From schools to the professional level, there are teams that simply don’t like each other for a multitude of reasons — and that’s fine and normal and healthy considering that they are competing for the same goal and one’s success inherently means failure for the other.
Juventus and Inter despising each other is part of the history of both clubs and Italian football in general. You can’t tell the story of either club without the other and the massive sports rivalry and hatred that exists between them.
But that’s where it should always remain. A sports rivalry. An animosity that lasts from whistle to whistle and that’s it. Unfortunately, there’s still “fans” that seem to be unable to make those differences.
It’s disheartening that these incidents keep happening at what feels like every stadium in Italy — and worldwide if we are being honest — but I find some solace in the fact that at least the public reaction to those incidents is starting to be of complete rejection towards the segment of fans that is responsible for them.
Juventus released a statement on Wednesday condemning the racist chants and threatening bans once they were identified and by and large most people on every side thought that it was unacceptable. Hopefully it doesn't stop at a statement and the people responsible are rightfully banished from the stadium grounds for good.
There’s always going to be bigots in this world — it’s unavoidable. But, if I may be a bit saccharine for the moment (or naive, call it what you will), I still think there’s more good than bad in the world and that slowly — maybe too slowly in some cases — but surely these pockets of hatred will be getting smaller and smaller.
One can only hope.
See you Saturday.