Javier Zanetti recently announced that he felt the time was right to retire. Over a 22 year long career, (19 of those years having served at Inter), "Il Capitano" came to Inter in 1995 and captained the Nerazzurri since 1999. He was Massimo Moratti's first signing and new owner, Erick Thohir, made the announcement that this would be Zanetti's last season as he transitioned to a (yet to be announced) management position.
The talk leading into the round of 37 revolved around Inter's announcement that during the last home match of the season, the entire Giuseppe Meazza would celebrate and pay tribute to "Il Capitano." The San Siro was sold out and fans near and far came to pay respect to their beloved captain.
While there seemed to be a nostalgic environment that surrounded the stadium, there were still some questions that plagued Interisti. Considering the recent announcement of Zanetti's retirement, it was with shock and disappointment that Mazzarri chose to exclude him from his last Milan city derby last week, especially since Inter lost to their cross town rivals. With this in mind, would Zanetti start or even play during his "final tribute" match?
Additionally, while there was a lot of fanfare prior to the match regarding "Zanetti Day," Inter had yet to seal a place in Europe for next season so many were also wondering about the Nerazzurri fate for the future.
Official Lineups from the Inter site:
Inter (3-5-2): Handanovic; Ranocchia, Samuel, Rolando; Jonathan, Hernanes, Kuzmanovic, Kovacic, Nagatomo; Icardi, Palacio
Substitutes: Castellazzi, Carrizo, Zanetti, Andreolli, Campagnaro, D'Ambrosio, Alvarez, Guarin, Taider, Botta, Milito
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
[Note: Cambiasso was unavailable as he served a suspension for this match].
Lazio (3-5-2): Berisha; Biava, Cana, Dias; Gonzales, Onazi, Biglia, Pereirinha. F. Anderson; Keita, Klose
Substitutes: Strakosha, Guerrieri, Ciani, Elez, Novaretti, Mauri, Filippini, Pollace, Ledesma, Candreva, Perea, Minala
Coach: Edy Reja
Officials: Massa, Marzaloni, Cariolato, Liberti, Bergonzi, De Marco
(Please click here for the Live Match Thread and comments).
Despite the game being billed as Zanetti's final home match where he would be honored afterwards with a stadium filled with Interisti, Mazzarri did not start him. Instead, the Inter boss went with his 3-5-2 formation with Handanovic in goal; a three man defense of Ranocchia, Samuel, Rolando; a five man midfield of Jonathan, Hernanes, Kuzmanovic, Kovacic, and Nagatomo; and a strike force of Palacio and Icardi up top.
Emotions were high and the opening moments of the match were fast and furious. Inter wanted to win not only to qualify for Europe next season but to win for their beloved captain. Conversely, Lazio were still hopeful of European competition themselves and would love to play spoiler to the planned celebration.
In the 2nd minute of the match, Lazio scored the opening goal on a night that was supposed to honor Javier Zanetti. Cana headed the ball and Biava found the back of the net. Inter were down early in the match by a 0-1 deficit.
The Nerazzurri quickly responded with their own goal as Kovacic slotted a perfectly timed pass to find striker, Palacio who equalized in the 7th minute. Inter were now level with Lazio, 1-1.
With Zanetti starting the match on the bench, the cameras were on him and he was seen celebrating Palacio's goal with Milito. Even though the captain was not playing, he was leading by example as he cheered his squad on.
Game on. The opening minutes of the match reflected a high tempo pace with both sides exchanging possession as they took their chances at goal.
The pace of the game slowed down midway through the first half as Inter possessed the ball and Lazio proceeded to drop further into their own defensive third of the pitch.
Kovacic again with another beautiful assist found Icardi who scored in the 34th minute. The young Argentine striker paid respect to "Il Capitano" by running over to the sideline where Zanetti stood and he hugged him and dedicated his goal to the Inter captain.
The Nerazzurri players continued to channel the emotions from the home crowd and gained even more ball possession which eventually led to Inter's third goal of the half by way of Palacio. Nagatomo's cross connected with the Argentine striker who easily found the back of the net. Palacio ran over to his Argentine compatriot after he scored his brace to dedicate his goal to Zanetti as well.
While Lazio tried to regain possession of the ball with a few chances towards goal, Inter maintained their goal advantage as the half drew to a close with the Nerazzurri leading with a score line of 3-1.
During the halftime break, Zanetti continued to warm up (he started warming up in the 40th minute of the first half) much to the delight of football fans watching worldwide. It was with great anticipation when Il Capitano finally entered the game in the 7th minute of the second half.
In Zanetti's last home match, he came on for Jonathan. While Mazzarri unjustly snubbed him for his last Milan derby the previous week, the Inter boss finally rectified the injustice by including "Il Capitano" to play in his last home match.
In the 10th minute of the second half, Zanetti won the ball and the crowd went crazy. Every time Zanetti touched the ball, the entire stadium erupted in cheers for the Inter captain. The players needed to keep their intensity and focus while applying pressure as they had in the first half. This would surely bring home the victory and allow for the celebration to start in earnest.
Milito was substituted for Palacio in the 20th minute and the stadium gave the Argentine striker his rightful standing ovation as "Il Principe" will surely go down in Inter history for his treble winning goals.
Taider was on for Kuzmanovic in the 28th minute as the third and final substitute for the Nerazzurri.
While Inter had enjoyed most of the possession in attack in the first half, Lazio made a push and tried to equalize as they peppered the Nerazzurri goal forcing Handanovic saves in the 8th, 14th, 22nd, 27th and 32nd minutes of the match.
Fortunately, Hernanes struck a missile towards goal in the 34th minute and scored Inter's fourth goal of the night, ensuring that Interisti worldwide would be celebrating the victory tonight.
Fittingly, in the 40th minute of the match, 40 year old Zanetti flew down the right side of the pitch with his trademark run which made the crowd go wild.
The game drew to a close and Inter were in the right frame of mind to celebrate "Zanetti Day" as they defeated Lazio with a final score of 4-1.
[With the emphasis on Zanetti's final home match of his career, and rightly so, it is also important to note that with rumors swirling about regarding the Inter Senatori's impending departure, this may also have been Milito and Samuel's final home match as well. Milito has been linked with a return to Argentina and Samuel linked to Fiorentina. Hopefullly the rumors are false as they both may serve useful even in a substitute capacity. Always a gentleman, Zanetti honored his Argentine compatriots during his own celebration].
With one game left, (away to Chievo), Inter secured European football with tonight's victory. The Nerazzurri sit in 5th place with 60 points in league standings, one point behind 4th placed Fiorentina (with a game in hand); five points ahead of 6th placed Torino (with one game in hand); six points ahead of 7th and 8th placed Parma and Milan, respectively (with one game in hand); and six points ahead of 9th placed Hellas Verona.
Overall, it was a night of celebration for the victory, European qualification, and most importantly, to pay tribute to arguably the greatest Inter player, "Il Capitano," Javier Zanetti.
As Kovacic so eloquently stated: Man of the Match? Javier Zanetti!
Best. Picture. Ever. RT! pic.twitter.com/Iixc9SyiO9— FedeNerazzurra.com (@_FedeNerazzurra) May 10, 2014
Inter 4-1 Lazio:
First half: Biava 2', Palacio 7', Icardi 34', Palacio 37'
Second half: Hernanes 34'