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Stealing life from the jaws of death: The Milan Women tie Juventus 2-2

Ma che partita! An absolutely thrilling match that ends in a 2-2 tie for our wonderful ladies! We should all build a shrine to Saint Francesca Vitale, and then supplicate ourselves in front of it, as a way of expressing gratitude for allowing us to secure this important and vital point. Aside from this, like, some other stuff went on. An attempt will be made to try to recap this game (while doing my best not to turn this into a puff piece about Francesca).

The Joy of Saint Francesca, oil on canvas, 1690
AC Milan

I have to admit, it took me a few days to come down from the emotional high of everything that happened, in order to become lucid enough to be able to write this.

As much as I just want to write ‘Francescaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Francescaaaaaaaaaaaa! FRANCESCA VITALE! FRANCESCA TI AMO!’ over and over again, I must, for all intents and purposes, compose myself long enough to type something coherent, and to actually write a review of this game.

And it was during those dying, last gasp sequences of the game, that I suddenly felt myself feeling a lot like Carlo Zampa, and Francesca turned into my very own Francesco (Totti) with that incredible last minute goal. It was at that moment that I suddenly felt kin with my Roma brethren, as I too, was screaming because I had been fortunate enough to be blessed by someone who was named after St. Francis.

This was one, absolutely, thrilling game, and a spectacle to marvel at. And even though it was a tie, it felt like a victory, mainly because it allowed us to hold onto the one thing that will keep us alive through the midst of these trying times. And that is? Hope.

The Masterplan:

Maurizio Ganz must be commended for the way he prepared for this game, and the tactics he employed as well.

Ganz deployed the usual 4-3-3 formation, with the intent of having the Rossonere use the width of the pitch to their advantage, while also deploying the speed of both Valentina Bergamaschi and Lady Andrade to not only create goal scoring opportunities, but to stretch the defense as well. The system would also allow their third trident in attack, Valentina Giacinti, to make her marauding runs into the inbox as she also made frequent runs behind the opposing defense.

Unfortunately, the adverse weather scuppered Milan’s initial plans, as Bergamaschi wasn’t able to run down the left flank at her discretion, and use it to her advantage. Instead, Milan had to resort to a Plan B and attack centrally.

Prior to the game, Ganz will have no doubt, watched past games of the Juventus women and built a game plan that was built upon exploiting their one true weakness: set pieces.

Juventus, like their male counterparts, have trouble dealing with dead balls that are lobbed into the box, as their insistence on defending as a collective group and not marking players individually, has cost them dearly on several occasions. They paid the price for this in their UWCL matches against Barcelona (4-1), and Ganz was also looking to make sure they suffered the same fate here. Milan’s main threat would mainly come through set pieces, and that strategy did in fact, pay off in the end.

Che Partita!

The match started off with Milan on the front foot right from the get go. Less than one minute into the game, our capitano, Valentina Giacinti, had her first shot on goal saved by none other than Juve’s resident shot stopper, Laura Giuliani. As I wrote in the lead-up to this game, Giuliani was statistically, the most effective keeper in front of goal during the Women’s World Cup, and the way she prevented our Valentina from scoring just confirmed why she’s one of the best in the world.

Valentina was in disbelief over what happened (as were the rest of us), and she let her feelings over it be known.

Parole Sante
Juventus TV

And, although the chances between both teams initially came fast and in a flurry, the game unfortunately, eventually became hampered by severely bad weather. That left the pitch in a very bad state, and it was painful to not only see the ground in such a bad condition, but to see the way it impeded the game as well.

The bad weather in Italy made it hard for both teams to gain any traction, and to zip passes along the surface the way they normally would had said surface been dry. Under circumstances like this, it’s inevitable that mistakes would eventually be made.

The first mistake unfortunately, came from Milan, as starting centre-back Laura Fusetti, whose performance was affected by the heavy rain, couldn’t deal with a cross into the box properly while trying to stave off the threat that is Cristiana Girelli, and ended up accidentally turning the ball into her own net. No need to berate her over this, as she most certainly must have felt awful over what happened. Though the only lamentation that will be added here, is that this unfortunate mistake came after Laura performed rather admirably for the national side (where she filled in for none other than Sara Gama, Juve’s captain, who had to leave the Italy camp due to picking up an injury in the qualifying match against Georgia).

Fortunately Milan would end up pulling one back later on, as our Super Slovenian Dominika Čonč, managed to score via (you guessed it!) a set piece in the 51st minute. We should all point to the sky above and give our thanks to whoever might be up there, if only for gracing us with this most graceful goal scorer.

Half-time would come, and the players would get a temporary reprieve from the rain.

Once the match resumed, the game would play out much in the same way as it did during the first half, except Andrea Stašková would take advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration by the defense in order to slot home Juve’s second goal of the game. Juve would then take the lead on the strength of that goal, and the previous one that was accidentally made by Laura Fusetti as well.

And it looked like that ― for all intents and purposes ― that goal would be the one that decided the game.

That was until the Francesca Vitale Nation attacked.

Sei bella come un gol di Vitale al 93’

Francesca, Francesca, our wonderful Francesca. I mean, what more can I say about our Francesca?!

I honestly can’t find the proper words to convey how much I feel about her, because every time I do, my brain gets flooded with an overdose of serotonin, and that chemical rush overloads all of the appropriate channels and thus prevents me from thinking properly.

So instead, I’ll express how I feel via a bunch of gifs.

Our Secret Weapon
That one movie with Tom Hiddleston in it

The lead-up to her absolutely magnificent goal was started with a cross, and oh, what a magnificent cross it was. That wonderful, beautiful assist that bounded through the air and was hit with a perfect equilibrium of force, was made by none other than our very own Linda Tucceri Cimini, who is absolutely wonderful in her own right.

Then it happened. That shot heard round the world. That closing salvo. The most banging of all headers. Il gol più bello della stagione, e il gol più bello della storia del calcio.*

Ecco il gol di Francesca Vitale.

Ti voglio bene Francesca!

And her celebration too!

And to think, she was actually a self-admitted Juventina growing up. Well, she is 100% a Rossonera now, and she’s most definitely one of us.

*(Why are you booing me! You know I’m right!)

Santa Francesca, la nostra salvatrice

That monumental goal also happens to be Francesca’s first goal for the season, and what a way to score your first!

It was a goal that sent us all into delirious state of euphoria, as we ascended to the vertiginous heights of glory. In the dying moments of the game, Francesca became our savior who infused her vitality into our veins, and resurrected us all back to life.

I screamed, you screamed, and we all screamed for Francesca.

As I’ve noted before, Francesca is a fan favorite, and this game will just further cement her status as a folk hero among the Milan faithful. She will live long in the annals of not only our hallowed history, but in our collective memories as well, as she will be permanently enshrined there in the midst of all of our affection.

This is her version of being the high school football hero who won the homecoming game with a last minute touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, during her senior year. And like Johnny Football Hero, she’s entitled to brag about it, and revel in all of that glory too.

The praise that peppered Francesca’s mentions was no doubt, well deserved. Francesca herself has said that she’ll constantly ‘relive’ this goal in her mind, and will do so for several years to come. And given how sweetly struck it was, we’re inclined to believe that she deserves to relive those warm and vivid memories over and over again, for the rest of her life.

Well done Francesca! You’ve merited all of those plaudits that have been bestowed upon you. (Along with all of those marriage proposals as well!)

And after the way Francesca has played in this wonderful game, I am personally lobbying the Vatican to get started on the process of canonization for her. (Now, who’s with me?!)

Other things of note:

- The game actually trended in Italy. It’s further proof that, once again, the peninsula is really starting to care about women’s football.

- Maurizio Ganz was also, for some odd reason, criticized for the way he celebrated after Vitale’s goal. Personally, I think that once you’ve achieved a monumental result like this, then you have every right to celebrate the way you want to, and should celebrate like this more often.

- Unfortunately, there was also a lot of (melo)drama and unnecessary hand wringing over this game. It was based upon, not only an incredible amount of sodium secreted by a small amount of fans, but it was unintentionally, also brought about by the players themselves.

While the women of Juventus were legitimately aggrieved over the rude chants coming from a certain subset of Milan fans (who it should be noted, were the minority), they also missed the fact that it was not just the Milanisti who were behaving this way, as the Juventini were also engaging in boorish behavior, and that they also peppered the Rossonere with abuse (as was confirmed by a few people who actually went to the game). (Also lost in the midst of all of this, is the fact that the Milan women had also been insulted during previous games by the opposition’s fans, yet they did not complain about it.)

This lead to a lot of verbal volleys that were being lobbed back and forth between both sets of fans, with both sides claiming to be ‘less culpable’ in this than the other, along with engaging in a simultaneous shirking of responsibility. The sad fact is, quite a few people missed this point and refused to admit that their side were just as culpable in this as the other, and generalizations were made in haste, in the midst of all the finger pointing.

Fortunately, not every single Juve or Milan fan (or player) was feuding over this. Most are handling it with maturity, chief among them being the previously mentioned Laura Giuliani, and Valentina Cernoia, with the former admitting the draw was completely merited (despite the bitterness of not winning), while Valentina acknowledged that this tie can be seen as an incentive for the Juventus women to improve.

Well done to these two wonderful ladies for maintaining their class in the midst of the needless drama, and also to Juve’s coach, Rita Guarino, for stating that the draw was a fair result.

It’s also worth noting that both Maurizio Ganz and Rita Guarino have mutual respect for each other, and most of the players of Juventus and Milan are actually good friends, thanks to the fact that they play on Italy’s national team together. It’s just a small subset of the fans that have run with it, and have created this tempest in a teacup.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Milan fans actually applauded the Juventus women for a job well done at the end of the game. Because hey, game recognizes game, and people can appreciate when the opposing team has played well. And conversely, goal scoring hero Francesca Vitale, also encouraged her fans not to use insulting hashtags. This led to her scoring yet another important point that night, and to be the MVP both on and off the pitch, as she won the hearts and minds of both sets of fans.

This is all the more reason to keep this type of ugliness away from the women’s game, or better yet, just to keep it away from the game in general. This pointless controversy has been a dark cloud that has obscured the beauty of this match, and this is not fair to the players, nor to everyone else who enjoyed the game, and who want nothing to do with this.

I ain’t mad at cha
FIGC Femminile

Final Thoughts:

We were all blessed by St. Francesca, as she bestowed benedictions upon us on that most holy and sacrosanct Sunday, and we are all very fortunate to be under her patronage as well. For it was mainly through her actions and strong volition, that we were able to secure this important and vital point, which is one that will allow us to remain in second place and most importantly, keep us in the running for a place in next season’s Champions League.

Let’s just hope that she and the rest of the Rossonere will continue to bless us during the upcoming weeks. The next match will be against Sassuolo and while that on paper, might seem like it’s going to be ‘easy’, Sunday’s game proved that nothing in Serie A is in fact, ever easy (or even goes according to plan).

The game against Sassuolo will also be a bittersweet affair too, given that Sassoulo’s current captain is Daniela Sabatino, who was once the captain of Milan. More importantly, the match will also be the first time the Rossonere will meet their former captain after the death of her father this past July. Here’s to hoping they’ll treat their ex-team-mate and friend with the appropriate respect she deserves.

The holiday season will soon be upon us, and if you’re the sentimental type, then this would be the time to count your blessings.

The Rossoneri will have much to lament about and every reason to feel like a Scrooge during this holiday season, but fortunately, the Rossonere will not be among those reasons. Instead, they are giving us a temporary reprieve from all of our woes, and something to actually be thankful for.

And let’s also hope that they’ll grace us with the gift of a victory during the next game, so that we’ll have even more of a reason to be merry.