Vicenza 1997: A Red Stripe on the Cup
Through the years, the Coppa Italia has seen 16 different winners. Of those 16, five clubs have their name on the trophy once
In some European countries, there are three domestic tournaments; a league, an open cup, and a league cup.
Italy is not one of those nations, which means that there are only two chances of silverware each season. It doesn’t necessarily mean that winning either is harder, but it does mean that there are a lot more cats than cream.
Yet football is a game of glory, and for supporters, it is far more memorable to win something than to perform well. The focus of a certain moment, with a player lifting a trophy above their head, can outweigh a number of seasons that bring improvement but no palpable reward.
Vicenza had experienced a lot of decent years throughout the 1960s and 1970s; a couple of sixth placed finishes in Serie A are the highlights of 30 seasons spent in that division.
A good number of celebrated players donned the Biancorossi colours too. The likes of Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio and more recently Christian Maggio have all graced the Stadio Romeo Menti.
Amongst all of that, the most memorable date in Vicenza’s history was May 29, 1997, when a 3-0 victory over Napoli brought Francesco Guidolin’s side the Coppa Italia – the first and only major honour in the trophy cabinet.
Perhaps the signs were there from the off. In the first game of the season at Lazio, Vicenza pulled off a surprise 4-2 win, made all the more memorable for Marcelo Otero scoring all four goals – the first time a striker had opened the season with a poker since Gianni Rivera against Brescia in 1969.
Despite the spectacular start in Serie A, it had not been a dominant cup run, but the Berici had momentum with them. Lucchese, Genoa and AC Milan all fell by the wayside en route to a semi-final with Bologna. Playing the first leg of that tie at home, the Biancorossi earned a 1-0 win courtesy of a Roberto Murgita header.
In the return game, a Cristiano Scapolo bullet brought the sides level on the stroke of half time and looked set for penalties. Then, in the last minute, Giovanni Cornacchini found himself with enough time to lash home from a cross and tore off in joy as his team were into the final.
There, they met Napoli, with the first leg to be played away from home. The Partenopei were in terrible form in Serie A, but had thus far picked themselves up to travel through in the Coppa Italia. As it was, Guidolin’s side suffered a 1-0 defeat at the Stadio San Paolo despite dominating proceedings, Fabio Pecchia scoring the only goal of a game that saw Otero leave on a stretch.
This was not a disaster, and set the final up for an exciting second leg and the supporters held fair that Vicenza might turn things around.
Having taken just 200 supporters to Naples, 22,000 fans packed into the Stadio Romeo Menti, producing a pre-match choreography of stunning proportions – the tricolore of the Italian flag on one side, and the circular crest of the Coppa Italia on another.
Twenty minutes in, it looked as though their dream might be over. Max Esposito found himself free in the box from a Roberto Bordin pass, but with the goal opening up, snatched at his shot and placed it straight into Pierluigi Brivio’s hands.
It was to prove a turning point. Moments later, a free kick was swung into the area by substitute Alessandro Iannuzzi. Giampiero Maini rose highest but his bullet header was parried by Giuseppe Tagliatela, only for the rebound to bounce at his feet with enough time to lash it into the roof of the net. 1-1.
Again, Vicenza had the best of the game, their fluid attacking football not just pegging Napoli back, but also increasing the excitement in the stands. Despite that, the goal did not come. Normal time ended, and extra time began. Still the goal did not come.
With two minutes remaining, a foul by Alain Boghossian gave Vicenza another free kick just outside the box. Instead of crossing, Massimo Beghetto drilled a low shot at goal that Tagliatela did well to stop. However, he spilled the ball again, and this time Maurizio Rossi was able to prod the ball home to send the Stadio Romeo Menti into ecstasy.
There was still time for Iannuzzi to seal the deal, rolling in a winner after finding himself in the clear in the last minute to eliminate any doubt. The cup was Vicenza’s, and Giovanni Lopez got to lift it above his head.
The party might have gone well into the night, but the celebrations continued as the Biancorossi enjoyed a Cup Winners Cup run the following year. That competition brought more memorable evenings; beating Shakhtar, then a 5-0 victory over Roda JC took Guidolin’s men into the semi-final.
There was even a first leg victory against Chelsea to relish, beating the English side 1-0 at the Stadio Romeo Menti before the disappointment of losing 3-1 in London. And from there, as so often, the story faded away.
The following year, Vicenza were relegated and despite bouncing straight back, have been out of Serie A since. Still the names of that side remain full of lustre, and Vicenza can look back proud at a side that won the Coppa Italia, a team that went on to strike considerable blows in Europe, too.
It can happen and, on May 29, 1997, it did.