Torino salvaged a point on Friday evening with a late goal from Andrea Belotti, who stabbed home to cancel out Franck Ribery’s strike for a Fiorentina side who were eventually reduced to nine men in one of the more memorable games that are utterly forgettable.
Italian football has taken many brickbats over the years for its defensive nature, the lack of goal-scoring and the fact that the pleasures of Serie A can be found as much in the ‘dark arts’ as they can from a stage light beaming down onto the Beautiful Game.
Friday night at the Stadio Grande Torino was a time for those dark arts to come to the fore as two of Serie A’s most disappointing sides of the season to date came face to face. It did not promise much by way of entertainment, and it did not disappoint.
The first half was spent with both attacks trying to figure out how best to safely negotiate their opposite defence and neither settling on a plan that offered a great deal. Ribery was busy, his scheming already a cut above most everyone else on the field. Serie A has done well to shake off its retirement home reputation, but the fact that the 37 year old Frenchman should be the class of this field indicates there is still work to be done on that front.
It was Ribery’s through ball to Dusan Vlahovic that looked set to see the Serbian open the scoring, but he drilled his low shot against the inside of the left post with Sirigu stranded.
At the other end, Torino’s best work was done through the middle, with the best opportunity falling to Simone Zaza. The former Azzurri international seemed to pause while he took aim, then casually swept the ball onto the crossbar with such ferocity it might have cleared a nearby Alp on the rebound.
The 0-0 scoreline at the break will have surprised nobody, but a single point was of little use to either. Half time was a blessed relief, tempered only by the realisation there was another forty five minutes to come; having endured the first half, it took no little mental effort to steel oneself for the second.
Upon the resumption, the pattern of play was little different to that before the break. Torino attacked with more numbers, trying to free players down the flanks to fire crosses in for Andrea Belotti.
Still their best work came through the middle, and it was as Sasa Lukic sprinted through onto a Zaza flick that it looked as though Torino might grab a goal. Instead, Lukic was hauled to the ground by Gaetano Castrovilli as he made his way into the area. Initially shown an immediate yellow card, Marco Di Bello was called over for a VAR check, and upgraded his decision to red. The foul, which appeared to be bordering on inside the area was certainly outside the box, and Belotti rifled a low free kick inches outside the post.
Things didn’t change much after the dismissal, with the Viola reliant on Ribery for their creativity, and more pressure coming down the left hand side.
Having seen Vlahovic foul up the chances he had provided during the first half, the diminutive Frenchman took matters into his own hands as he took the ball forward from the centre circle. Some intricate passing followed, culminating with a classy one-two with Giacomo Bonaventura, who released Ribery with a perfectly timed ball behind the Granata defence who rushed to the line behind the on-rushing Sirigu, only for Ribery to jink past the goalkeeper and put both ball and defenders into the net for an opener of such quality that it outshone the rest of the game.
Suddenly, a whole host of Viola hangers on appeared to envelope Ribery in a gleeful huddle. The scorer himself looked perturbed, but that may just be that he struggles to extricate himself from his usual demeanour.
Having established a platform, Fiorentina proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot again.
This time, as Andrea Belotti looked to escape down the left wing, he tangled with Nikola Milenkovic. For the forward’s part, he earned a booking for bringing his man to ground. In being the undoubted aggressor in the coming together of the two, face to face, Milenkovic was shown a red card, and joined Castrovilli in the bath. Had he used his head, he likely wouldn’t have used his head.
Facing nine men for the last twenty minutes, Torino flooded forward, bringing three distinct possibilities into play.
The first, that they would fail to break the nine men down and lose 1-0, was the position in hand as they started. It would not have been quite terminal for their season, but it would be a blow to come back from.
The second, with which they flirted periodically, before baby-faced Alessandro Buongiorno coquettishly drew a halt to proceedings, was that they would be caught on the counter-attack by a Viola side who replaced the venerable Ribery with Igor soon after Milinkovic departed.
The third option, and the one that having sat through the first seventy minutes was as inevitable as the setting of the sun, was that they would labour bloody-mindedly forward, creating little of any value, but with the added spice that with such a numerical advantage, Belotti would almost certainly find space for a shot at some stage. That point arrived with two minutes remaining, showing up with leg outstretched at the far post to meet a Simone Verdi cross.
You could tell this was important, as Belotti barely brought his cockerel hand to his head in celebration.
Now level, the Granata appeared buoyed and pressed for as long as it took to Fiorentina to realise what was happening, and found they could rather negate the ploy by hoofing the ball clear and running after it; this rugby tactic proved more successful than Castrovilli’s venture into the playbook of the oval-balled sport for his challenge on Lukic.
In the end 1-1 was a fair result and the 97 minutes played offered a sum total of five memorable moments. Still, it’s over now and Torino and Fiorentina have a week to recover before their inevitable defeats to Atalanta and Inter respectively.
If this was an advert for Serie A, you would not buy it.