Olimpico. Finally! I’ve arrived!
After spending almost 8 hours sightseeing in Rome, the Rome derby is about to begin! Lazio v Roma in the 1st leg of the Italian Cup semi final.
The stadium is absolutely breathtaking! The pitch is picture perfect! The grass is so green there’s no need to cross over to see the other side.
I see a Lazio fan take a picture with his scarf that said “Roma is shit” and I immediately decide to do the same.
I like both teams but there’s a tendency for me to favor Lazio since they are the underdogs. They have suffered more throughout the years and they have always been under the shadow of their arch rivals Roma.
I get myself some refreshments in the form of chips and a peach ice tea almost an hour before the game starts. A family of 3 generations sitting behind me is grabbing my attention as they talk passionately about Lazio. Father, mother, son of about 15 years of age and the grandfather. I decide to introduce myself to them. As I’m describing why I prefer Lazio over Roma, I see the mom’s face beginning to glow.
“You’ve chosen well, dear”, she says.
The son starts praying I would be an omen of good fortune on the team tonight. I tell them to teach me some Lazio chants so I can sing with the crowd once the game begins.
“Eeeeehhh Oooohhhhhh… Bastardo, Giallorosso!!”
No need for translation there as it’s self explanatory, except for the last word which stands for the colors of Roma, yellow and red. Kind of shows you the hatred among both sets of supporters.
Both teams are making their way to the field with Lazio’s Vola song being played out across the giant stadium. Players are shaking hands. Fans are exchanging insults. A war of 90 minutes is about to begin!
Roma start brightly, pressing high and forcing a few frantic cries from the Laziali around me. One fan on my left goes nuts over a misplaced pass by the captian Biglia. No one is safe from criticism during the derby, not even the capitano.
Half an hour has passed. A smart through pass by the Serb Milinkovic finds the Brazilian Anderson, who in turn gets passed the first defender and manages to turn back the pass to Milinkovic to slot it home. 1-0 Lazio. Fans go ballistic!
The crazy fan to my left starts squeezing me until I can’t breathe. Father and son hug me and start pounding my shoulders saying “we’re gonna do it!”.
After the goal, fans are becoming even more nervous, more afraid of losing what they’re about to achieve. Roma start pressing higher, causing more threats than before. I manage to sneak a close-up photo of Mohammad Salah, the Egyptian Roma player. If the family behind me sees me doing this they will surely think its strange;in the Lazio religion, it is obligatory for every Laziale to hate and despise every Roma player and everything that is associated with Roma.
But I have to take the risk. After all, Salah is an Arab. He represents a sense of pride to some 300 million ones across the planet. I quickly snap a photo and get back to cursing at Roma players, including Salah. Normal services resumed.
The referee’s whistle signaling the end of the first half is just a few minutes away.
However, I’m starting to notice an awkward trend taking place near me among a group of supporters.
Whenever the German defender Rudiger touches the ball in Roma’s build-up play, these supporters start making awkward sounds, monkey sounds to be precise. I’m processing, why? He has never played for Lazio, so why is he being singled out…. Ohhhh…. I understand now… It’s the color of his skin.
My head goes down in shame a little bit for being surrounded by such a group. Not all Lazio fans are doing this, but this group has a substantial amount of people doing it. Another moment of sadness is passing by as I see a young boy also doing those sounds. I really hope he does not grow up with this thought carved in his head.
Half-time! Time to freshen up on that peach ice-tea!
I check social media a bit, and time flies by as players reenter the field for the second half. Lazio are now attacking our end, the Curva.
Roma continue to have possession of the ball without really threatening Lazio’s Albanian goalkeeper Strakosha. All attempts by Roma players to cross the ball and find their talisman Dzeko up front are facing a stern defence represented by de Vrig, Wallace and Bastos.
Lazio’s plan basically now is to absorb the pressure by Roma, and once they get hold of the ball, release it to either Felipe Anderson or Ciro Immobile to counter-attack. Immobile is perfectly executing Simone Inzaghi’s (Lazio manager) orders. Anderson, on the other hand, is sort of fading away after creating the first goal.
A goal kick for Roma now. However, roars of joy and encouragement are starting to emerge as the ball boy puts the ball behind Roma’s goal, so that the goalie can he himself come and pick it up. Everybody is clapping and telling the youngster how proud they are of him.
An old man approaches the boy in what is seeming to be as him giving advice to the young fella to not repeat it again. Crowd erupts in anger and starts cursing at him. The boy just became a hero in the eyes of all the Laziali! I am smiling. Football is beautiful.
Inzaghi is about to make a change. Looks like Anderson is making way for the quick, young, Senegalese forward Keita Balde. He will certainly give more energy and dynamism for the attack with his pace and ability to move past defenders.
Keita now receives the ball near the right side of the field. He’s now trying to get passed the Greek defender Manolas. His pace allows him to do so. He’s coming closer towards the goal. He passes the ball to Immo…… GOAAAAAL!!!
The Curva is going wild! Immobile is running towards us to celebrate. Euphoria is indescribable. I am swinging in all directions from the repercussions of others furiously hugging me, trying not to fall on someone or hurt myself. Suffocation is the theme at the moment, where each breath counts.
Squeezing and hugging is increasing. Fists are flying high. Emotions are flowing and being transmitted wirelessly to everyone around us. Everybody’s delighted. We can sense victory coming closer and closer. Lazio are winning 2-0 over Roma. We are almost there!
Leading up to that second goal, Immobile’s performance was truly one to savor, with his ability to hold up the ball for his teammates and creating spaces for his attacking partners. The goal is the cherry on top of a brilliant display by the 27-year-old Italian.
The last few minutes are passing by with Lazio’s defenders clearing up every attempt and cross by Roma players, who are desperately trying to get something that will ease their mission in the second leg in April.
The white eagles flying over the Olimpico since the beginning of the match are acting like gods protecting Lazio from every threat by Roma.
Francesco Totti, one of my all-time favorite heroes of the game, is now entering as a substitute for Roma, with a wave of curses and yells from the laziali.
The referee has just blown the final whistle. Lazio won!
Official song of Lazio “Vola” starts playing around the stadium and the players are now thanking us for the support.
Some fans are jumping over the barriers and running towards Immobile and other players to get their shirts. Incredible moments. Amazing scenes!
I say goodbye to the family behind me. The boy tells me I should watch every Lazio match at the stadium because I bring good luck. I laugh, thank them, and wish them the best of luck.
The word Vola means Fly.
I, along with all the Laziali right now, are flying as high as the eagles hovering above us throughout the previous 90 minutes!