It is so unfortunate that all the focus at the end of Serie A’s first Boxing Day fixtures since 1972 has been on unsavory incidences. The Boxing Day round of fixtures concluded with a big match between 3rd placed Inter and 2nd placed Napoli. However, the attention-grabbing news post-match was on the death and clash of fans as well as the racist chanting towards a player.
I will focus first on football. In my opinion, based on how the season has unfolded, both teams are comfortable in their respective positions. Juventus are the overwhelming favorites to win the Scudetto. It will take an almighty and unlikely collapse from Juventus for the chasing teams to overtake them. I feel it’s best that Napoli and Inter try and maintain their position while focusing their attention and energy on winning a Cup.
In this game, Inter had the better of the first half, pressing Napoli high and forcing them to make mistakes in possession. They had more of the ball and dominated their opponents. However, they did not create too many clear-cut chances. Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly in Napoli’s defense repeatedly foiled Inter's attacks. Napoli had the better of the second half as mistakes in possession crept into Inter’s game.
The game turned on its head after Koulibaly got sent off for collecting 2 yellow cards in quick succession. At the time of his sending off, it looked like it was for sarcastically applauding the referee. Later, it transpired that there was a mitigating factor behind it. Inter capitalized on the absence of Napoli’s best player on the pitch to win very late in the game. Lautaro Martinez made up for the miss against PSV in the decider Champions League clash with a goal here.
Lorenzo Insigne got himself sent off from being wound up by Inter’s Keita Balde, leaving Napoli with 9 men. Now on that unpleasant note, let’s address the unsavory incidences. There was a clash between Inter and Napoli fans before the game that left 4 Napoli fans wounded and an Inter fan died. It was later revealed that the fan that died was, in fact, a Varese ultra.
In the stadium, Koulibaly was subjected to racist chanting by a section of the Inter ultras. At that time, I couldn’t hear any racist chanting while I was watching the match on my iPad. I am not sure if that was the case for others watching it on TV. When the match ended, I started reading on social media of possible racial abuse directed to Koulibaly. It was confirmed the next day.
Both incidences need to be condemned and more needs to be done to ensure that it is not repeated again. On the issue of racism, it is embarrassing and disgusting that it is still happening. This is not just an issue exclusive to football or Italy. There have been other similar incidences in other parts of Europe too. Worldwide, politics has given rise to leaders that regularly perpetuate hate and discrimination towards other races. These voices have grown louder and popular. That has now found its way onto football grounds.
It is embarrassing for Inter fans to racially abuse a player after cheering on many black players in the past. There were black Inter players on the pitch too. Part of me feels that these guys are not really racist and have ignorantly subjected a player to racial abuse to get under his skin. The ploy worked because Koulibaly lost his cool and got himself sent off. His sending off was also significant in allowing Inter to win.
I can’t say for sure if I am right in feeling that way. They could genuinely be racist too. Whatever the case, these fans need to be identified and immediately banned from watching matches in the stadium forever. There has to be better surveillance and security for the identification of individuals such as these in the stadium. A stadium ban only punishes the majority of fans that came in the right spirit to the stadium.
On the pitch, the players and the referee should have the power and courage to stop playing or abandon the game completely if racist and discriminatory chants are not stopped. Inter was formed on the grounds of being an inclusive club for everyone of all races and nationality, these fans have gone against the club’s ethos and the basis of a formation. They are a disgrace to the club.
On the clash between fans leading to the game, it has been very long since there has been such an incident in Serie A. Evidently, more work still needs to be done to identify troublemakers. There has to be greater intelligence from the police to identify when an issue might be on the cards as well as suspected troublemakers who are on the way to the matches.
The football world including Inter has come together to support Koulibaly in a show of solidarity. I hope stricter measures are taken in the near future to prevent such incidences from overshadowing matters on the pitch. I hope tomorrow onwards we only talk about football and nothing else.