Monday, 12 January 2009

Vucinic has last word as Pato’s brace denies Roma

In the first of his blogs for Italian-Calcio, our man in Italy Kris Voakes reports on all the main Week 18 action in Serie A, including a look back at David Beckham's debut in the big Sunday night match.

David Beckham's was the name on everybody's lips at kick-off time, but Mirko Vucinic and Alexandre Pato shared the headlines after Roma and Milan served up a lively 2-2 draw at a deafening Stadio Olimpico.

Roma's Montenegrin front man struck either side of a quick fire Pato brace to earn the home side a point. But it was a result they'd seemed unlikely to get at times, particularly during a barrage of Milan pressure early in the second half.

The first big moment of the evening came before kick-off when Rossoneri coach Carlo Ancelotti named former England captain Beckham amongst his starting XI after four days of media conferences in which he'd reiterated the LA Galaxy loanee would only be a substitute. Beckham Watch began with his first touch after just 15 seconds, and in the first 15 minutes his new Milan side were dominant.

However, with the Giallorossi having defended stoutly to stifle the Milan threat, it was the home side who struck first when Mirko Vucinic ghosted in between Giuseppe Favalli and Marek Jankulovski at the far post to fire Roma into the lead.

The remainder of the first half was a story of broken attacks as Vucinic twice ignored overlapping players in better positions when deciding to shoot, whilst for Milan Clarence Seedorf was too slow to react after a great break and pass by Pato, allowing Marco Cassetti to snuff out the danger.

As it turned out, the first half had been a mere appetiser for a fantastic second 45 minutes which came to life in its third minute. Kaka' made a break down the left, beating two men on his way to the bye-line, before squaring for Pato. As the Roma defence stood and watched, the 19-year-old Brazilian had the simplest of tasks to side-foot home from two yards to square the game.

And within four minutes, "The Duck" sent the travelling fans into delirium with a wonderful solo effort. Picking the ball up forty yards out and to the left of goal, Pato gave Philippe Mexes five yards start, but screamed past the Frenchman with a fantastic burst of speed before drawing Alexander Doni and, with a delightful flick, he sent the ball over the diving keeper and into the inside netting from a narrow angle.

Milan were now as much on top in general play as they were on the scoreboard, and but for a fantastic last-ditch tackle by Juan on Kaka', Roma would have been two behind. Beckham also crafted an opportunity to shoot from just outside the area, but his curling effort was well smothered by Doni.

The game swung back in the host's favour after the introduction of David Pizarro, whose cross gave Julio Baptista a glorious opportunity to equalise, but he could only send his free header straight into the arms of Christian Abbiati. The home support needn't have worried. Within two minutes, Vucinic had again lost his marker at the far post and this time sent a diving header back across Abbiati and into the net. It was the striker's fourth goal in three games against Milan, having scored the winning goals in both encounters last season.

As Milan tried to force their way back in front, the game became a real end-to-end thriller. Roma forced opportunities for Brighi and Aquilani, whilst Kaka' and Seedorf should both have down better with headed chances for the Rossoneri. Beckham was then given a rousing ovation by the 1,200 or so Milan fans when he was replaced by Mathieu Flamini in the 89th minute as the game finally ran out of legs. Although not spectacular, the England international made a very solid start to life as a Rossonero.

The result leaves Milan still nine points behind leaders Inter after their disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari. Although Nerazzurri coach Jose Mourinho will see the result as two points dropped, they were lucky not to lose all three as Davide Biondini and Robert Acquafresca both missed glorious opportunities to tie up an away victory. Goalscorer Acquafresca's was the most gilt-edged as he managed to fire over an open goal with just six minutes remaining.

Inter's lead was shortened to four points on Sunday when Alessandro Del Piero scored the only goal for Juventus at home to Siena. It was Ale's sixth goal from direct free-kicks this season, and his 36th free-kick goal in the Bianconeri shirt.

Elsewhere the headlines were made by Lecce, who recorded the shock result of the weekend, a 2-1 victory away to Fiorentina. The result not only lifts them out of the bottom three, but also sees Fiorentina drop out of the Champions League positions in favour of Napoli, for whom Christian Maggio scored the only goal against Catania. And the final word has to go to Lazio's Macedonian striker Goran Pandev, who scored a marvellous hat-trick at Reggina in a 3-2 win which takes the Biancocelesti to within three points of fourth-placed Napoli and prompted many Roman dailies to proclaim Lazio as outsiders for a Champions League finish come May.


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