Coppa Italia: First Part of Treble Or the Birth of Roman Empire?
Inter and Roma meet tonight in Rome's Olympic Stadium to contest the Italian Cup Final, but it easy to see why so much more is at stake.
Jose Mourinho's side stand on the verge of a historic treble. Two points clear of this evenings opponents in Serie A and in the Champions League, where Bayern Munchen await, Claudio Ranieri and his home-town team, AS Roma, provide the first obstacle.
It is the fifth time in six years that these two have contested the final, with Inter winning the first two in 2005 and 2006 and Roma triumphing in the next two years. In that time they have also been the top two teams in the league four times.
Events in recent weeks and months have provided all the ingredients to make this a real grudge-match.
Firstly, there is the history between the coaches. Mourinho took over from Ranieri as Chelsea boss, capturing glory using the foundations undoubtedly lain by "The Tinkerman." Upon his arrival in Italy however, the Portuguese was quick to attack his rival, then in charge of Juventus. "Loser" was one of the kinder insults launched by Mourinho.
Ranieri as always refused to respond, but to make the first dent in his tormentors treble dream would be almost as sweet as the resulting Roma victory for a man who led Fiorentina to glory in this competition in 1996, when Mourinho was still translating Sir Bobby Robson's ramblings into English at Barcelona.
As if this was not enough fuel for the fire, we have the events of Sunday evening in the very same stadium. Roma's city-rivals Lazio laid down for "their friends" Inter to enable the Milan side to overtake the Giallorossi atop Serie A and into pole position for the Scudetto .
This has led to much moralising from Roma, which glosses over the fact they themselves did a very similar thing in 1993 to ensure the relegation of rivals Fiorentina to Serie B. Ironically, this is where current Roma boss Ranieri took over and led them back to the top division at his first attempt.
With all this background undoubtedly creating even more tension in what is already a heavyweight encounter, both coaches will be glad they are able to field their strongest line-ups free of injuries and suspensions.
Roma captain Francesco Totti should play up front next to either Mirko Vucinic or Luca Toni, while Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito are expected to lead the Inter attack with support from Wesley Sneijder.
Roma, playing before their home crowd—yet another bone of contention for Mourinho this week—boast a draw and a win against Inter this season, and are after a record-setting 10th cup triumph, while Inter have lifted the trophy five times.
If Roma can win here, it may be the start of an Inter collapse, inflicting a psychological blow from which Mourinho's men never recover. The date with Bayern looms large and may just distract the champions enough to allow Roma to sneak past them over the last two games.
Or it may just be Part One in another piece of history for the Nerazzuri machine.
This article first appeared at Back Page Football
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