By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
It was meant to be one of the biggest matches of the Serie A season. Third came up against fourth with the Champions League play-off spot coming into sharp focus. One of the teams was coming off a first win in six and looking to reassert their one-time stranglehold on a podium position, the other aiming to put a derby draw to the back of their minds in a bid to continue their magnificent renaissance since Christmas.
Instead, Lazio’s trip to AC Milan was a virtual no-contest from the 17th minute onwards. Antonio Candreva’s sending off spoiled what could and should have been a classic. To that point, Milan had been battering down the door, yet the Biancocelesti were looking reasonably threatening on the break. It was enough to have fanatics and neutrals alike salivating.
But the expulsion of Candreva changed all that. For the final 73 minutes, there was only one team threatening, with Milan enjoying 60 per cent of possession, firing 22 shots at goal, and generally having something of a night off as Lazio’s 10 men showed no signs of troubling the Rossoneri steamroller which has flattened most things thrown in front of it since the turn of the year.
The sad part about the whole game-changing episode, though, was that it should never have happened. For a second night running, a piece of incompetent refereeing stole the headlines in Serie A, but Daniele Orsato’s decision not to send off Edinson Cavani on Friday was trumped by Nicola Rizzoli, who spent around two minutes pondering two calls he had to make, and got them both wrong.
First of all, he made the decision not to award Milan a penalty for Candreva’s foul on Stephan El Shaarawy, which he instead deemed to be only worthy of a free-kick. While the majority of the former Livorno and Juventus man’s body was outside the area when he made contact with ‘Il Faraone’, it was clear that the collision had taken place in the box. Yet Rizzoli refused to point to the spot.
|HEAVEN AND HELL | Milan and Lazio in 2013
|Milan (3rd, 48 pts)||Lazio (4th, 47 pts)
|Siena (h) 2-1
Sampdoria (a) 0-0
Bologna (h) 2-1
Atalanta (a) 1-0
Udinese (h) 2-1
Cagliari (a) 1-1
Parma (h) 2-1
Inter (a) 1-1
Lazio (h) 3-0
|Cagliari (h) 2-1
Atalanta (h) 2-0
Palermo (a) 2-2
Chievo (h) 0-1
Genoa (a) 2-3
Napoli (h) 1-1
Siena (a) 0-3
Pescara (h) 2-0
Milan (a) 0-3
There was then a long period of deliberation between Rizzoli and his various assistants over their electronic link-up to discuss a punishment for Candreva. The result, ridiculously, was a red card, with the winger adjudged to have denied El Shaarawy an obvious goalscoring opportunity despite the fact Andre Dias was sliding in in an attempt to cover just as Candreva made contact with the Milan forward.
For the refereeing team to have misjudged the point of contact was perhaps forgivable given the pace of the game, but the dismissal of Candreva should never have been even considered. Lazio suffered thereafter, but more importantly the game did too. The paying public didn’t get the spectacle they deserved, and neither did the millions watching on television. Sometimes football really doesn’t help itself, and the whole saga reminded everyone watching that goal-line technology is the least of the game’s problems.
The 3-0 Milan win could well have wide-ranging consequences at the top of the table. The Rossoneri continue to head the form table and show little sign of letting up. This was meant to be one of their big obstacles before the season ends, but instead they have grabbed the Champions League race by the scruff of its neck with a thoroughly professional performance. Facing 10 men for 73 minutes, they did exactly what they needed to do and need to be credited for doing so.
Lazio, meanwhile, look like a punch-drunk boxer. Although the Candreva decision had a massive bearing on the outcome, Rizzoli was not to blame for the way the Biancocelesti surrendered, nor for Hernanes having absolutely no effect on the game. Their horror run continues, with only one win recorded in seven fixtures, and they look set to fall short at the business end for a third straight year. Edy Reja could not quite get them over the line, and now Vladimir Petkovic has a real job on not to fall the same way.
Even had they been up against 11 men and awarded a penalty, Milan probably would have had too much for the capital side, but we’ll never know now. Another potential humdinger has been lost to incompetence, and football is a poorer game for the frequency with which bodged calls leave its audience frustrated rather than thrilled.