Nervous Inter threaten to repeat collapse
MILAN, May 12 (Reuters) - Inter Milan's title jitters are giving their fans painful flashbacks of the 2002 season when they managed to surrender the scudetto on the final day.
A repeat next weekend would be even more shocking and signal one of the biggest collapses in modern soccer.
Roberto Mancini's side were 11 points clear in mid-February, but with one round of games left they lead AS Roma by just one.
The 2-1 defeat by AC Milan two weekends ago knocked their confidence slightly, but they always knew a home game with Siena on Sunday offered the perfect chance to retain their crown.
Instead, Inter drew 2-2 after losing the lead twice and Marco Materazzi had infuriated his team mates, fans and coach. The centre back decided he would take the 78th minute penalty which would have handed the scudetto to Inter, given that he netted the spotkick against Siena which clinched the championship the previous season.
However, Argentina striker Julio Cruz was the nominated taker. The pair argued and Cruz had to be pulled away.
Materazzi's effort was saved and the defender, in the Siena box during an attack, also managed to get in the way of a goalbound shot from Cruz to compound his misery.
After helping Italy win the World Cup in Germany two years ago and then leading Inter's 2007 title charge, Materazzi had become an idol, but not anymore.
'The Hero of Berlin returns to earth and loses his people,' said a headline in Gazzetta dello Sport, which also labelled the team 'PsychoInter'.
Inter finished third in 2006 but were awarded the title in a courtroom following Italy's match-fixing scandal. Last season, with Juventus in Serie B and AC Milan having points docked, Inter romped to the championship without much competition. This time, the pressure is on and parallels with 2002 are being drawn.
Inter had not won a scudetto since 1989 when they led Serie A heading into the final day that year. They contrived to lose 4-2 at Lazio and Juventus took the title.
Inter's coach back then was Hector Cuper. Next Sunday Inter will be without injured talisman Esteban Cambiasso when they travel to relegation-threatened Parma, now managed by Cuper.
Roma, who meet Inter in the Italian Cup final on May 24, have a tricky trip too, however.
Luciano Spalletti's team visit a Catania side still in the relegation mix and coached by former Inter goalkeeping great Walter Zenga.
Rarely can two final-day matches have meant so much at both ends of the table.