The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
I thought Ronaldinho was getting a haircut? I must have skimmed some important paragraphs in those reports, because when I saw “Ronaldinho prepares for Inter by cutting his hair” I assumed he was doing something Spartan and serious, shearing off his tresses in order to prove that his focus on crushing Milan’s rivals precluded all decorative intentions. And yet, there he was, hoofing it down the touchline, mane rippling like a Chinese dragon, still looking more or less like Florence Griffith-Joyner.
It was a good match, though, played on a strange axis of composed and furious. I don’t know why Inter ever tried anything other than getting the ball to Maicon on the wing and letting him cross for the strikers, because he was acid on the defense and Milan leaping couldn’t contend with Adriano and Ibrahimović standing on flat feet. By the same token, Milan’s best play was clearly just to let Pato do anything he wanted, and then later to mix that strategy with the occasional through ball to Inzaghi in the hope of catching him on one of the three seconds out of every minute when he isn’t egregiously offside. To their credit they largely figured that out.
I don’t think Inter deserved to win. At their best they looked stronger and meaner than Milan, but this was a match where the seesaw kept tipping and a Milan team that generally looked right on pace with their scheduled decline into old age and lassitude would suddenly rediscover the dangerour potential of their own unruffled patience. Adriano’s goal—as great as it was to see him playing well after the impersonation of a piece of malfunctioning construction equipment that he turned in last week against Brazil—was clearly a handball. (Not the first time he’s scored that way, either.) And at least a couple of Milan’s penalty appeals should have been given: Inzaghi was visibly hauled down in the box at one point late in the game, and early in the second half Stanković bashed Ambrosini.
There were some murderously good tackles on both sides. If I were building a team from scratch and Iker Casillas was taken, I might pick Júlio César over both Buffon and Petr Čech. It was sort of theatrically amazing to see Patrick Vieira come back from the dead and win a standing ovation on the night of Maldini’s last derby—though that’s a probably, and I’m not taking anything for granted.
Lastly, how massively cool is it that Pato is turning out to be everything everyone predicted? Having him and the not-so-terribly-out-of-form Ronaldinho together on the attack for Milan is like hearing some pure sunny pop song leaking through the headphones of a motionless man in a suit.
by Brian Phillips · February 15, 2009