Hellas Verona Club Focus: Mastini score on and off the pitch
Much of the pre-match build up focused on the possibility of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli being the subject of racist abuse at the Bentegodi, but the Gialloblu managed to re-write the news by earning a deserved win against the favourites from the San Siro and the much-feared abuse never materialised.
In addition, Luca Toni enjoyed a dream league debut as he scored twice for the Mastini and showed that he is still a threat at the age of 36.
Verona managed to win both off and on the pitch. The notorious Verona fans behaved well and the only reaction that Balotelli received was sarcastic applause and the chanting of his name.
In the end, it was Rossoneri fans who were arrested for throwing seats after the final whistle although Verona were fined €40,000 as flares were thrown onto the pitch and lasers were shone by some of the home fans. However, for the most part the controversial fans of the Gialloblu largely avoided trouble.
Club president Maurizio Setti proudly announced after the game that the style of support at the Bentegodi was one that should be imitated by other clubs and he announced that Italian clubs should look to the English model as an example of how to eradicate hooliganism. To be able to make such comments must have been a wonderful moment for the president who is more accustomed to defending the actions of supporters who are often seen by others as a pariah of calcio.
Whilst the Milan game was essentially a carnival, it displayed the qualities that give Verona a strong chance of staying up. Playing in front of fans that put so much pressure on their shoulders actually seems to help as it ensures the players turn up to every game determined andin the belief that they can win for the Bentegodi faithful.
The victory against Milan showed that Verona can do what they need to do if they want to remain in Serie A. Despite starting slowly the Scaligeri began to look dangerous after they started pressing higher up the pitch. Massimo Donati and Jorginho were impressive in midfield as they won the ball and immediately started counterattacks while Raphael Martinho made a nuisance of himself on the wing.
Luca Toni demonstrated his class and his excellent chance conversion means Verona look dangerous at every set piece. Last season’s top scorer Daniele Cacia only came on as a substitute but the club believe greatly in him so the fans are looking forward to seeing him make an impact in the top flight even if they got on well without him on Saturday.
Saturday’s performance led to comparisons being made to the ‘Fatal Verona’ sides who beat the Diavolo 5-3 in 1973 to deny Milan the Scudetto and that did the same in 1990 when Arrigo Sacchi’s Rossoneri fell 2-0 at the Bentegodi in the penultimate game of the season when key players Marco Van Basten, Alessandro Costacurta and Frank Rijkaard were sent off for Milan. On Saturday everything went Verona’s way, but now they must ensure they do not get ahead of themselves.
On Sunday September 1 Verona head to the capital to face the new Roma side of Rudi Garcia which also impressed against Livorno during their first game of the season. It will be a tough test for the Gialloblu, away from home against a strong opposition who will have learnt from Milan’s example not to be complacent against the Serie A newboys. The Giallorossi’s opposition scouts will surely have identified Luca Toni, Jorginho, Martinho and Massimo Donati as the key players and devised strategies to keep them quiet.
The trip to the Olimpico may be more indicative of how the rest of the season goes when they come up against established Serie A clubs. It will be difficult at a hostile Stadio Olimpico for Verona to press like they did against Milan and it is expected that the technically superior Giallorossi will be able to control possession and the rhythm of the game.
Andrea Mandorlini will be presumably happy if his side manage to sneak a draw. But with Toni in the side there’s no reason that they couldn’t head back north with all three points.The 36-year-old’s presence in the side transforms the Mastini into a real threat who need just one opportunity to pinch a goal from a set piece or cross that reaches the head of the former Fiorentina man.
Verona’s game against Roma might be more representative of the rest of the season. Without the media circus surrounding the Balotelli affair and the return to Serie A that accompanied last week’s game the fixture may seem to be a more of a routine day in Serie A. The pundits probably expect Verona to lose to Roma, but if they can show they are determined and refuse to submit to the superiority of the Lupi then they will bedisplaying the spirit needed to stay in Serie A.
The Mastini need to remain constantly competitive and gritty and against the likes of Milan and Roma this may result in a few surprise victories that will be seen as bonus points. But more importantly, such an approach will help them to beat the mid-table sides and fellow relegation candidates, which will be essential if they don’t want to return to Serie B in a hurry.