After a long, painful hiatus Italy’s preferred pastime came back.
In an empty Juventus Stadium, the Bianconeri hosted AC Milan in the second leg of Coppa Italia semi-final, almost four months to the day from the first leg.
The two teams paused for a minute of silence to commemorate the deaths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Italy, one of the most affected countries in the world, lost more than 34,000 lives and unfortunately the tally is still increasing every day, although at a much slower rate than the terrible months of March and April.
In a country where uncertainty still reigns on the return to normality, where there is not yet a fixed date for schools to reopen, where the incoming tourist season is in doubt and where one out of 12 people has fallen below the poverty line, the need for a distraction was palpable.
The ancient Romans called it “panem et circenses”, bread and circuses, referring to the need for the governors to provide food and entertainment to keep the masses quiet.
The Italian government of today has provided the latter. And in a pure coincidence, the team bearing a Latin name has been again at the centre of the circus.
To be completely honest, the entertainment wasn’t really there. The game was lame, no goals were scored, and the empty stands contributed to a non-existant atmosphere.
The game was a scoreless draw that gained Juventus access to their record 19th final, thanks to the 1-1 draw in Milan on February 13.
The two scorers of the first leg made the headlines again. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty 15 minutes into the game. His penalty in injury time in Milan gave Juventus the precious away score that proved to be the difference between the two teams.
Milan player Ante Rebic’s game was cut short when the Croatian international was showed a red card for a kung-fu-style kick only two minutes after the missed penalty.
The numerical advantage gave Juventus the upper hand, but the Old Lady wasn’t capable of transforming her dominance into goals, with Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa neutralised by the Rossoneri’s keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The game will not be remembered for its merit, but only for having been the first step towards the return to something like normality in Italy.
Today Napoli and Inter will face off to decide who will play Juventus in the final, which will be played just four days later in Rome, in the modern Circus Maximus, the Stadio Olimpico.
Bread will follow, at least for some.