Padova v SPAL – Serie C Cup
I’ve seen more scientific matches, and we really should have blown SPAL right out of Euganeo tonight, but I’ll take this result.
Again tonight, the crowd was small. At least it didn’t rain. Only 2,804 were present but they saw us do pretty much what we wanted, when we wanted against our lower-ranked opposition. Except win, I guess, but you can’t have everything.
At least, after the first eight minutes had passed. As banged-up as we have been of late, it was still a shock to see SPAL’s Bruno Cazarine stroll right up Route One to take a perfectly-weighted lead ball into the area. It was more of a shock to see him slot past a surprised Cano to give them an away goal within the first ten minutes.
It was even more shocking to me that the goal wasn’t disallowed for offside. It surely looked to me like the player was a stride clear of Faísca in the center of our defense as the last man when the ball was played to him.
In short, the main thing I didn’t want to happen had not only happened, it had happened quickly. So, I stood in my technical area, hands on my hips, glaring at all and sundry while our erstwhile rivals celebrated around us.
They were in with a shout and suddenly our margin for error was razor thin. Our having three away goals in the bag still meant they had to score twice more to beat us, but I would have much preferred it not be even this close so early in the second leg.
However, that was SPAL’s high water mark. We soon regained the ascendancy with some very fine work on and off the ball, growing in confidence even as our patchwork squad got used to playing together. The systems work I’ve been drilling into these players has started to pay off and we closed Route One to our opponents for the rest of the night as quickly as it had opened.
For me, the key was getting onto the board and our lone true striker did just that shortly after SPAL’s opener. Di Nardo did the business for us, picking up a huge goal on a very fine feed from Rabito on seventeen minutes, finishing with a powerful header nodded down off the ground and into the roof of the net.
That was his third goal of this tie, and his profligacy in front of goal is a real reason to smile. We had our two-goal lead back and even though they still needed two goals, they now needed three to defeat us outright.
Instead of being worried about their attackers, however, we then remembered that the best defense is a good offense. We swarmed SPAL’s goal for the rest of the first half and only a series of wonderful saves by Matheus in their goal stopped us turning the match into a rout.
Still, I was well satisfied at halftime and figured it was only a matter of time until we broke through in the second half to win the home leg of the tie as well. The side was holding together quite well with the exception of the brain lock that had led to their goal, and I honestly didn’t think they’d hurt us much in the second half either.
It turned out I was half right. They wound up with four shots on target compared to our fifteen – but Matheus turned heroic in goal for them and we didn’t score again. We peppered him with 24 attempts in the ninety minutes and at the end they were on the ropes to be sure, but in the end the 1-1 result on the night didn’t reflect our dominance.
Two bad things were still to come, though: first, Guglielmi was carded in the second half and reached his limit, so he will miss the next Cup match through suspension; and the second was what happened to Rabito.
Trying to play after hurting his hamstring on Sunday, he put forth a brave effort but badly twisted his ankle on another 50-50 challenge midway through the second half. He had to be stretchered off and he’s going to be lost to us for awhile.
As painful as this injury was, I knew right away it wasn’t as bad as DiVenanzio’s had been at the start of the season. Rabito was hurting badly but he had flexibility in the ankle when moving it. He’ll be lost for awhile but hopefully not long enough to really hurt us.
In the final analysis, we took our chances better on the road, but played a much better overall match at home in this tie. You have to be able to grind out the results, of course, and as we left the pitch happy to have moved on, I was left to reflect on the way the match had gone.
I gathered my squad around me in the changing room and gave them the honest truth.
“Fellows, that was a hell of an effort,” I said. “Considering the roles I asked some of you to play tonight, this was a real team result and all of us are responsible for getting through to the next round. Well done tonight and now let’s get some rest and get ready for Sunday.”
The media asked whether I thought Cazarine’s goal was offside.
“I thought so but there’s no sense dwelling on it now,” I said, in a mood to be gracious. “The tie is over, we’ve moved on, and I thought we were excellent in both our approach and our application tonight despite scoring only one goal.”
“And your thoughts on Matheus in their goal?”
“That’s not a goalkeeper, that’s a contortionist,” I replied. “Wasn’t he good? I thought he was tremendous and we could have scored five or six against some of the keepers we’ve faced this season. Yet we’ve moved on and in the end, that’s all that matters.”
Padova 1-1 SPAL (4-2 aggregate)
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We’ve also learned our next opponent in this competition, and again we will play lower-ranked opposition.
Teramo, the tenth-placed side in Serie C2B, is up for us next. We will again be fancied and we welcome the challenge.
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