Lazio trump Roma in "More than a final" cup climax and Europa play-off

In the end the Coppa Italia final failed to live up to its billing of a bloodbath in the streets or a spectacle on the pitch.

From the moment AS Roma and Lazio made it through to the showpiece event in the capital’s Olympic Stadium, Rome had been gearing up for the mother of all matches – and with it the threat of more violent clashes between the two Ultra factions which had marred the league encounter in April.

Disappointing league campaigns had turned the occasion into a play-off for the final Europa League spot, which only added to the rising tension. As local sports daily Corriere dello Sport reminded everyone, this match was “more than a final”.

It was a smart move by Lazio owner Claudio Lotito to decamp his squad far from the city, south to the countryside near Norcia – from where he had planned the club’s victory over Sampdoria in the 2009 final.

Not even a surprise visit from doping officials could disrupt the build-up, seeing as the team were set to head off to a training session and refused to get off the bus. For the record, Roma had also received a similar call at their Trigoria training base.

However, these were only minor distractions compared to the threats reportedly phoned in to three members of the Lazio playing and backroom staff: that they would be better off losing on Sunday or their families face dire consequences.

As an extra militia of police arrived in the city to ensure that the good citizens could also vote in the local election safe in the knowledge that no harm would come their way, so the Ultras decided on a rare act of fraternity: a truce meant that all sort of weapons from knives to baseball bats had to be stay in their hiding places along the River Tiber. Even the appearance of Gangnam Style singer Psy couldn't spoil the festive atmosphere, uniting the fans in jeering the performer.

Lazio's pre-match show

It was a shame then that the players couldn't shake off the nerves, with Roma in particular looking weighed down by the enormity of the occasion. Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli’s selection played into the hands of Lazio’s long-ball game, which was set out to gain as much territory as possible to keep the opposition out of range of the final third.

Lazio midfielder Cristian Ledesma’s booking on Marquinho after only 43 seconds set the tone for a very un-Italian first half: the ball was rarely on the ground, and when it was the players' poor control and elementary passing errors highlighted that they were hamstrung by the fear of losing rather than the desire to win.

Lazio boss Vladimir Petkovic had admitted in the pre-game press conference that he had never felt so much tension in his career but as the big man in the tight suit gently perspired he must have felt that his game plan was taking shape in a way he never thought likely.

After all, Roma had Francesco Totti, Erik Lamela and Paolo Osvaldo with the sort of technique to unlock any defence. Problem being that Osvaldo was benched in favour of Mattia Destro, and although Destro is the competition’s top goalscorer with five goals, he had spent a good part of the week at an Italy Under-21 get-together with team-mate Alessandro Florenzi.

With Daniele De Rossi and Michael Bradley unsure whether they should cross the halfway line, never mind play a pass forward, Totti & Co. were left to grappling with their markers for every ball.

The game did open up briefly at the start of the second half when Ledesma was stretchered off with a groin strain but Hernanes dropped back and start to dictate play from a deeper position. At least the growing feeling that one goal would do it upped the drama, although as time passed it seemed the players were wading through a marsh rather than skipping across the freshly manicured turf.

The only player who looked as if he was actually enjoying himself was Antonio Candreva – the Roman who had to deny he ever had a poster of Totti on his wall when he signed for Lazio last season.

Unlike Lamela on the opposite flank, Candreva had gone searching for the ball to torment Roma left-back Federico Balzaretti – and it was his low cross which led to goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont parrying the ball into the path of Senad Lulic, who bundled into the empty net.

While Lazio hearts soared, so the fight all but went out of Roma – although Totti’s lofted free-kick caused Marchetti all sorts of problems as the goalkeeper was forced to push the bouncing ball onto the bar.

The introduction of Osvaldo through the middle with Destro drifting out to the left did little to unsettle the Lazio backline and it was the Roma players who were brought to their knees at the final whistle.

Anderazzoli’s brief time in charge ended in acrimony with the insults from Osvaldo ringing in his ears, but for Petkovic and his Lazio players all they could hear was the weight of history filling the stadium.

The Lazio squad then went on an open-top bus tour to the cheers of their delirious fans, while the vanquished Roma team dodged the bottles, eggs and a rock thrown at their team coach. There was never going to be anywhere to hide on a day that was indeed more than a final.

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