Inter time it just right
Sunday afternoon's Italian championship finale was not one for the faint-hearted. Indeed, with just half an hour of an increasingly exciting season remaining, the title looked to be Roma-bound.
Proving a worthy replacement for the injured Francesco Totti, Mirko Vucinic conjured up a superb solo goal to give the Giallorossi an early lead at Catania. And with leaders Inter struggling to unravel Parma's defensive web, the Romans seemed to poised to snatch the spoils at the death.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Milan outfit's Swedish talisman, had other ideas, however, firing Roberto Mancini's men into the lead 30 minutes from time to swing the title tussle back in their favour.
And although Roma conceded a late equaliser,
Ibra added a second ten minutes from time to just to make
absolutely sure, confirming Inter's status as champions for the
third year in succession and Roma's as runners-up for the
second season running, while also sending Parma down to Serie B.
Inter's complete first threepeat
And so after adding some spice to the championship race with an unexpected late-season stumble, Inter finally held their nerve to notch the first three-in-a-row in their illustrious history - quite an achievement for a side that went without a single Scudetto during the 1990s. Much of the credit for that must go two men in particular, coach Roberto Mancini and the free-scoring Ibrahimovic.
Rumoured to be leaving the club in the summer, the former Italy international has proved equal to the task of handling a huge and richly talented squad of 42 players, 26 of them foreigners. On the eve of the deciding day of the season, just when the team could have been forgiven for doubting their championship credentials, Mancini showed his man-management skills by coaxing the star goalscorer into making a return from a two-month injury layoff.
The coach's words of wisdom certainly did the trick as the Swede came off the bench at the start of the second half to tilt the title race in his side's favour. Despite his injury problems, Ibrahimovic still managed an impressive 17 goals this term, once again showing his worth as Inter's go-to man.
And what makes this latest Scudetto all the more satisfying for Inter is that it was won against a full-strength Serie A line-up. Back in 2006 they were declared the champions following a match-fixing scandal that resulted in Juventus' demotion to Serie B and an eight-point penalty for AC Milan, factors that undoubtedly smoothed their path to glory in 2007.
The Nerazzurri laid the foundations for their latest success in the first half of the season, making a fast start that included a spectacular 4-1 demolition of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Matchday 8.
The Romans pushed their northern rivals all the way, however, and there can be no doubt the duo are the powerhouses of Italian football right now, having kicked off the season with a Super Cup showdown and then fighting out a gripping championship battle. Just to underline their supremacy of the domestic scene, the two teams of the moment will also face off in next Saturday's Italian Cup final in Rome.
AC Milan come up short
Juventus made a commendable return to Serie A duty by taking third place and securing a ticket to the preliminary rounds of next season's UEFA Champions League.
The Turin giants were grateful in no small part to a rejuvenated Alessandro del Piero, who struck 21 goals to top the Italian scoring charts, just one ahead of team-mate David Trezeguet. Del Piero's deadly touch in front of goal won him a place in Roberto Donadoni's squad for UEFA EURO 2008. Strike partner Trezeguet will not be joining him in Austria and Switzerland after being overlooked by France boss Raymond Domenech.
The big surprise of the season was AC Milan's fall from grace. The reigning European and world champions could only finish fifth after letting slip a whopping 26 points at home, a poor return that has condemned to UEFA Cup next season, where they will be joined by Sampdoria and Udinese.
The side pipping them to fourth and a place in this summer's Champions League preliminaries were Fiorentina, who made sure of their top-four finish with a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Torino on Sunday. The Viola's achievement was made even more remarkable by the fact that they lost goalscorer Luca Toni to Bayern Munich before the start of the season.
Down at the other end of the table, Jorge Martinez was the toast of Catania last night when he struck four minutes from time to earn his side a crucial point against Roma and help them stave off relegation on the final day for the second season on the bounce. The Uruguayan forward's party piece spelt doom for fallen giants Parma, who drop down to Serie B with Empoli and Livorno.