The sun was shining in Perugia on Saturday afternoon, but above Lake Trasimeno clouds and mist prevailed. In a parallel struggle at the edge of the sod and mud, visiting tifosi tried to lift the atmosphere, spreading red-and-yellow banners (and one flag), and calling out their songs to the tunes of ‘Aida’, ‘The Entertainer’, and even ‘God Save The Queen’. Poggibonsi’s English aspirations even extended to one of the supporters’ groups, ‘Old Lion‘. Their team had not lost in six games.
The home side were not sporting color; with the stewards in their usual light-grey Cucinelli slacks and charcoal pea coats, and the fans in dark winter gear, the mood was tense and uncertain. Castel Rigone had lost its last three matches.
The pitch had been vacuumed of water, but more was to come — not long after the opening whistle, the skies opened up. The morass along which the near-side assistant referee had to run looked like a course set up for miniature monster trucks. And Poggibonsi was fierce in attack — their number 7, Daniele Ferri Marini, bossed the left sideline against the Castel Rigone terzino, Francesco Luoni. Right before half, Ferri Marini capitalized off poor clearances in front of the net, and the gloom deepened at 0-1.
Our friends John and Marcello, who had joined Simon and me for the match, found it somewhat difficult to cheer for Castel Rigone. The home team was sloppy, slow, and inattentive. The central defenders, Moracci and Gimmelli, were dismal, frequently just lobbing the ball up the middle of the field, right back to the opponents. On one occasion Moracci, having fouled a Poggibonsi player, shoved him back down after he tried to get up, frustrated that he had just given the ball away again. That sort of ungentlemanly play soured the game, and chippy encounters continued. The home side would end up with four cautions and and one dismissal, and Poggibonsi’s manager would be ejected. There was even an incident between fans in the stands near the end of the match, which is not supposed to happen at San Bartolomeo.
Castel Rigone did better when they tried to play through their new regista, the central midfielder Mauro Calvi, who had only been with the team a few days. He was thoughtful, patient, and incisive with his passes. He looks like the kind of glue the team needs. But not much clicked between the rest of the midfield and the two strikers, Tranchitella and Scappini. Nicholas Redi, who had hardly played of late, started at attacking midfield, but was neither strong enough to hold the ball or sharp enough to pass it usefully.
It was a grim and grimy affair. How on earth did Castel Rigone win?
It could have been luck, which wasn’t going the home side’s way when a bullet cross struck the outstretched arm of a Poggibonsi defender in the area and the referee refused to whistle for a penalty (in the video highlights below). But just three minutes from time, after a cross from Bianco on the left found confusion in the area, Scappini bumped over the keeper (which could not be seen either by the referee or his assistant, whose views were blocked), and the captain, Gimmelli, making some amends, headed the ball home over the stricken portiere. The goal should not have counted. That was lucky.
Or it could have been strategy; Rigonesi manager Fusi removed the ineffective Redi and the newcomer Calvi (who was then on a yellow) at 14′ of the second half, and Ubaldi worked hard to fuse the broken synapses between midfield and the forward line. Roberto Cappai then came on with but 16 minutes to play (he had been on the sale block all month, but no one bought him), a measure of faith by Fusi in a player who has barely seen the field. His drive, strength, and toughness began to make inroads. The talented but wild Bontà was the third substitution, but it was the appearance of his two-footed challenge (he got the ball) that earned him a red card at the end of the match. Perhaps then, some strategy.
But it definitely included quality — the quality of Dario Tranchitella. At 29′ in the first half, a keen pass from Gimmelli through the right channel found Dario, who put in a perfect square ball in front of the defense to a wide-open Scappini, who blasted it over the bar. Turning in crosses is of course never as easy as it looks — velocity, spin, timing, defenders, bad footing, and keeper can all make it go wrong. That’s why true strikers are so rare and so valuable. They have the focus and the skill to put the ball away most of the time. Despite having few scoring chances of his own, Tranchitella kept moving across and through the defensive line, and finally, in the first minute of added time, he lost his marker. In came the cross from Luoni on the right, and Super Dario rose to head it back across the keeper and into the corner of the net. It was his 100th career goal for Castel Rigone, and so the Giornale dell’Umbria dubbed him ‘Re Dario‘. God Save The King.
After the match, I tried to nudge our rental, a red Fiat Qubo (perhaps the world’s ugliest car) up the slope from the parking area by Stadio San Bartolomeo. It was too steep — Simon and Marcello had to get out and walk. But it wasn’t as steep a slope as Castel Rigone had to climb in the last four minutes of the game. It remains to be seen whether this triumph will mark their march over the crest on the road to salvation.
As we cleared the seventh hairpin turn on the way home, a bit stunned at how the game had turned out, we caught a glimpse of Lake Trasimeno down below. The clouds had cracked, and beams of sunlight poured down into the basin.
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 22 victory v. Poggibonsi:
Press conference after the Poggibonsi game: