AS Roma are relishing their unexpected opportunity to snatch the Serie A title from a faltering Inter Milan.
Two weeks ago their hopes seemed dead and buried as they trailed the champions and leaders by six points with just three games to play.
Due to Inter’s better head-to-head record in the two league encounters between the pair, they needed only three points — or one win — to ensure they held onto the title for a third year in a row.
However, they lost the Milan derby to AC and then were twice pegged back after taking the lead at home to little Siena before drawing 2-2. Marco Materazzi also missed a penalty in that match.
It all means that Roma have the possibility of claiming the title today when they travel to Sicily to play Catania, the same day that Inter are at Parma.
What makes the two matches doubly exciting is that Catania and Parma are still in the relegation scrap.
Inter lead Roma by just one point, down from the six of two weeks ago and the 11 of early February.
There are various permutations but Roma have to win or they cannot win the title. If Roma do win, Inter will also have to win to claim the Scudetto.
But at the bottom, Inter’s opponents Parma must be victorious or they are down.
Catania need a point to be sure of survival if either Parma or Empoli, who play already relegated Livorno, win. “The title is Inter’s,” proclaimed veteran defender Christian Panucci before extolling his team’s virtues.
“We’ve performed a remarkable recovery but if Inter are 90 minutes away from winning the title it’s because they haven’t put a foot wrong, a bit like us,” he said. “We’re already delighted to still be able to fight until the final day.”
However, he did have a warning about their opponents.
“It would be totally wrong to think that the match against Catania is a foregone conclusion, they’re the hardest opponents we could have had,” Panucci said.
“As for them, their position will make it an even more difficult match,” he said. “The difference will be made by character, whether that be ours at Catania or Inter’s at Parma.”
Inter have been boosted by the news that captain Javier Zanetti and star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic are available, although Esteban Cambiasso is definitely out.
Roma are still without their captain Francesco Totti but Brazilian defender Juan, his center-back partner Philippe Mexes and midfielders Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perrotta should all recover from knocks.
It’s not just the title and relegation to be played for — two of Empoli, Parma and Catania will join Livorno in Serie B next season — there is also the outstanding issue of Champions League qualification.
Inter, Roma and Juventus are in while either Fiorentina or AC Milan will claim the final spot.
Fiorentina have the edge by two points and if they win at Torino, they will seal fourth spot.
Milan have to beat Udinese at home to stand any chance and then hope that Torino do them a favor.
Veteran midfielder Clarence Seedorf, seems resigned to Milan’s fate, though.
“Over the last five and a half years we’ve done some great things,” he said. “We’ve always been among the best teams in Europe and this is the first season that we haven’t achieved what we wanted to in the league.”
“Last year especially, the team overachieved, with all the problems we had, and obviously this time we’ve paid for that on a psychological level,” he said.