After a long day traveling and an overnight flight from Montreal to Rome, my body’s natural inclination was to get to the hotel and lay down for a nap. But on this trip to Italy, there was one and only one chance to participate in the most Italian of traditions. A tradition bordering on religion to many Italians was to take place at 3pm on this Sunday afternoon.
Calcio. Football. Soccer. It was something I wasn’t going to miss. After a remarkable cultural experience watching my first European soccer match last year in Prague, weary body and mind wouldn’t keep me away from joining 30,000 others for the afternoon’s Lazio-Sassuolo match. From touchdown of our plane through train and subway to our hotel, then subway and tram to Stadio Olimpico, we made it just minutes before the match was to start. The Lazio supporters and ultras had already taken up their traditional place in the Curva Nord and were warming up their voices as the players were introduced:
It was a picture perfect Sunday afternoon and we settled into our seats and directed our attention to the field, a challenge given how much fun it was to watch the Lazio supporters chant, sing and dance in the end to our right. Here’s the kickoff to start the match:
Eight minutes in and Lazio whipped its fans into a frenzy with an early goal. From an innocent looking play, Mauri drilled a shot from 25-30 metres out into the far corner of the net. Cue the Lazio supporters and ultras going wild – smoke bombs and flares included:
A short twelve minutes later, some abysmal defending by Sassuolo led to two Lazio attackers alone in front of net. A short tap in by Djordjevic past a diving keeper put Lazio up 2-0. If you look closely, you can see that moment in the photo below (as well as the about twenty Sassuolo supporters behind the net guarded by at least that many security people):
Sassuolo and Lazio traded goals before the end of a ridiculously entertaining first half to leave the home side with a 3-1 lead. I didn’t know much about these teams before attending the game other than recognizing some of the high profile Lazio players and knowing Sassuolo was the type of team that hopes to stave off relegation this season. If this one game showed anything to me, it’s that they’re both poor defending teams with some talent up front – a perfect recipe for an entertaining afternoon.
Here we are at halftime, enjoying a chance to stretch our legs before the resumption of the match. You’ll notice that we both were smart enough to wear the home team’s light blue colour. Nothing worse than showing up to a game wearing the colours of the visiting team. I don’t fight well enough to make those kind of mistakes:
Shortly into the second half, the match took a dramatic turn from one that had been relatively well controlled by Lazio. Cana was sent off after taking down a man in the box and receiving his second yellow card. This is Berardi taking the penalty for Sassuolo that narrowed the gap to 3-2:
With Lazio down to ten men, the game opened up even more than in the first 50 minutes. Both teams traded high quality chances. I’m not sure if a soccer purist would have loved this match, but it was a complete blast to watch as Sassuolo tried to equalize. They were aided by some very poor officiating that didn’t go over well with the Lazio supporters. This resulted in me learning some choice Italian words to chant at a referee.
Later in the match, a Sassuolo player was sent off for his second yellow card and with both teams now playing with only ten men, the match started to resemble a hockey game with attack after counter attack. On a hot afternoon, it was impressive to watch both teams sprint end to end. Here’s Lazio trying for an insurance marker as Candreva looks to cross the ball into the box:
In the final minutes, Sassuolo missed a golden chance to equalize as Marchetti, the Lazio keeper, punched a dangerous header over bar. Lazio would have scored two more goals after that if not for Miroslav Klose (a late substitute) botching two shots from in tight. The match ended 3-2 for the home side ensuring a happy night in many, many Roman households.
Five hours after landing in Rome, I had already experienced the wonderful Italian tradition of a soccer match on a Sunday afternoon. The sun was shining, the home team had won, and we were making our way for our first Roman meal (that ended up being the best pizza I’ve had to that point in my life… little did I know what I was to taste in Naples about a week later). As we left the stadium, although jet legged, I was happy and already starting to fall in love with Italy.