If I Told You Once, I Told You Twice. But Zampa Told You Nineteen Times



Because anything less than nineteen times "gol" wouldn't do it justice. Because this game was so immense, that to undersell it only ever so slightly would be an affront to the extraordinary work Ranieri has been able to do together with this squad. That's an important distinction to make, to me: "together with this squad". It's not about Ranieri possessing magical powers, and that he alone has turned around Roma's fortunes, nor is it about the players righting the ship by themselves. The turn of fortunes for Roma since the nadir of Spalletti's resignation has been remarkable, and it could not have been done without the combined efforts of coaching staff and players. To suggest otherwise is a failure to recognize the hard work they've put in. This win away to Juve is the ultimate proof of that, and it plays out in so man narratives: Roma's first victory in Torino since 2001 (only the second in a decade and a half); the symbolism in Roma using Juventus as a springboard to jump five points clear; Ranieri's vindication and vendetta against the club that fired him, and then spent 60 or so million on incoming transfers during the summer. It all ended on the night when Ranieri made sure that little more than halfway into the season, he had bettered Juventus' record by eleven points. What made it even more perfect, to me, is that even though we all know deep down Ranieri was dying to let lose the Roman within him, finally in its natural habitat, but refrained from doing so. He acted classy, putting Roma's interest in front of his own by so much that his own seized to be visible any longer. If he was happy, it was because Roma won. That, I think is harder to do than the opposite, which would have been to verbally reproach Juventus and gloat. It takes a big man to rise above that instinct and just talk about the team.

Most of my recollection of the game went out the window in the wake of Riise's feat, and what I do remember is scattered fragments, only being certain that some of it actually happened. The strongest memory is the feeling of fate kicking Roma in the teeth, as Toni went out injured after two minutes. It was less than ideal. It was even downright bad. Totti is Totti and shall forever be worshiped as semi-deity, but he entered the game cold, out injured since weeks, into the same chilly Torino evening that had just ambushed Toni's calf. Everything about the game was conditioned heavily by that change, and it was noticeable that Roma's game hadn't been constructed that night for a Toni-less approach. Totti did the best of a bad situation, however. Every touch he had was like a brush stroke of Caravaggio, challenging the very concept we held prior of what was possible to do with a ball or a brush. Every touch, every back heel, every pass, became an instant danger. It suffered for only having Vucinic to seek out most of time, not for any fault of his.

Then Del Piero scored. Again, it felt like that fate that took out Toni making its presence being felt for real. Del Piero, who hadn't scored since half a lifetime, who talked before the game about him and Totti being something special, created a masterpiece out of nothing. Flashes of Totti a few years ago. But then, somehow, someway, the shift. Roma had a penalty away to Juve - the words still seem alien to me, after years of being conditioned to consider a referee only slightly partial to Juventus a blessing - and as Totti executed it with steadfast dedication, it became clear that it was fate. Just of another kind than previously feared. Suddenly it was an open game. Suddenly it was an open game Roma had every intention of winning. Riise (Riise!) broke through the middle on a long ball and forced Buffon to take a red card. Riise played some sort of hybrid between left wing and attacker the final minutes, and exploited the naivety of Juventus' defense to win the game. The unlikeliest of heroes, but there can hardly be a more deserving one. He's put in nothing but complete dedication every single minute this season, and he's never missing. But, if I may. If I may shine the light on something different, something which made me just as ecstatic, if not more, than the actual header.

If I told you once, I told you twice: Pizarro is amazing. I'm not going to pretend the entire sequence that led up to his passing the ball to Riise was symptomatic of his game - you only see him making such a perfect tackle so often, after all. But that play was perfection given a face, a superior football brain and a diminutive physical frame, and we can't pretend for perfection to take place every time. The tackle, the hurried advancement with the intrinsic knowledge that if the game was going to be won, it would be in that small window of time, open for no longer than a few seconds. As he took the ball forward with his head lifted high above the fray, he operated on a level the opponents couldn't even aspire to, because they didn't know it existed. Riise called for the ball, and pointed out precisely where he wanted it; he got it. That delivery was the finishing touch of the nth masterpiece by Pizarro. If I told you once, I told you twice.