Sunday, June 06, 2004
The football season may be all over in England, the play-offs finished and the nation looking forward to next week’s Euro 2004 clash with France, but here Serie B is still running and the local side, Hellas Verona, are in a position metaphorically similar to the conditions in which they played yesterday: bogged down in the quagmire of a relegation dog-fight.
A month ago, playing poorly and without hope, they looked doomed. However two successive victories have raised hopes of survival. Then yesterday the biggest game of the season, against Pescara, one point and one position below Hellas: the losers almost certainly doomed, the winners equally certainly guaranteed a play-off place (they have relegation play-offs here) at worst.
The club wanted a full stadium and so, brilliantly, decided to sell tickets at token prices: I paid two euros for mine, high up, above the corner flag. The Hellas end was sold-out; in contrast Pescara had, maybe, 200 stout followers huddled underneath the scoreboard.
E che partita! In torrential rain 22 men ran and jumped and fell and tackled and showed us, again, why football is the best drama there is. Two sublime free-kicks, several rain-induced cock-ups, one red card, seven goals, ninety-four minutes and one hell of a lot of noise later Hellas had won, 4-3, and – along with other results – condemned Pescara to Serie C. Meanwhile Hellas now just have to win next week against already-relegated Como to ensure survival. Otherwise it will be a play-off against either Bari or Venezia. That’s one game I would love to see.
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