Daniele Portanova still had to show up to work every day. Handed a four-month suspension this summer for 'omessa denuncia' – the failure to report attempted match-fixing – Portanova nevertheless continued to train with his team-mates. He still ran when they ran, stretched when they stretched, and chased Alessandro Diamanti's shadow in defensive drills. Portanova continued to perform all of his typical duties, except for the only one that really matters.
"It was undoubtedly a strange sensation," said the Bologna defender on Wednesday. "You train as usual during the week, but you don't get the adrenaline you are used to."
A 33-year-old journeyman with eight clubs on his resumé, Portanova had appeared in more than 400 games as a professional and served as Bologna's club captain prior to his suspension. Yet the prospect of returning to action on Sunday, against one of those former employers – Napoli – made him as nervous as he had felt prior to his first appearance for Fermana, in what was then Serie C1, back in 1998.
"I am so emotional; it feels like this is my first day again," he said as the team prepared for their trip to Naples. "I have been waiting for this moment and now it has arrived. It is like I have gone back to my professional debut."
Some spot this would have been for a defender truly making their bow. Napoli's attack, led by Edinson Cavani, had scored 19 goals in their previous eight games at the Stadio San Paolo. They arrived at this game with the added incentive of knowing that a victory would move them up to second in the Serie A table, after Internazionale had lost to Lazio the day before.
Bologna, by contrast, were struggling at the wrong end of the table. Through 16 games they had collected only 15 points – and only three of those on their travels. Portanova's absence had been felt, but this team would not have expected drastically different results with him present. Bologna's sights were set first and foremost on maintaining top-flight status.
On Sunday, though, they had their hosts troubled from the outset. The manager Stefano Pioli's decision to modify the Christmas tree formation used in recent games into a 4-2-3-1 was a resounding success, Bologna suffocating Napoli in midfield, keeping the ball away from Cavani and his forward partner Lorenzo Insigne.
After 10 minutes, Bologna took the lead, Manolo Gabbiadini bundling home a cross from Nicolò Cherubin. Alberto Gilardino had the ball in the net for them again less than a quarter of an hour later, only for his header to be wrongly disallowed for offside.
At that stage Napoli were reeling, yet there was a sense of inevitability about their equaliser just after half-time. Federico Agliardi attempted to palm away a near-post shot but instead pushed it straight into the path of the onrushing Alessandro Gamberini.
Pioli had altered his team's shape, withdrawing Tiberio Guarente and introducing Archimede Morleo, and somewhere along the way, attacking impetus was lost.
In the 70th minute, Napoli took the lead, through Cavani's close-range header. Now the script seemed set: this was to be another come-from-behind victory for a team whyo have built a reputation for scoring late goals under Walter Mazzarri. But that was before Panagiotis Kone intervened. A second-half replacement for René Krhin, Kone's volleyed equaliser from a horizontal position will go down as one of the goals as the season.
Less than five minutes remained when Kone struck, and yet his goal did not represent the culmination of the drama. That would arrive just a few moments later, when Portanova himself arrived with the winner, timing his run into the box perfectly to meet an Alessandro Diamanti free-kick from the left.
"This goal repaid me for a cruel page in the history of football, written at my expense," said Portanova afterwards. He maintained his innocence throughout the process, stating that he did not even understand what he was being asked when two associates of the former Bari defender Andrea Masiello allegedly approached him for help fixing a game between that team and Bologna on the final day of the 2010-11 season. Bari won the game 4-0.
The verdict delivered by the Italian Football Federation's disciplinary committee did not find Portanova guilty of agreeing to throw the match but only of failing to report that conversation. "Omessa denuncia is a delicate thing," he observed at his press conference last week. "This had never happened to me before, I was a bit drunk too. I paid a dear price for that meeting. The ban only lasted four months but for me it was a lifetime."
Yet where Bologna were strengthened on Sunday by Portanova's return, Napoli's preparations had been overshadowed by impending charges against two of their own players. Last week the federation's prosecutor, Stefano Palazzi, requested that Paolo Cannavaro and Gianluca Grava each be suspended for nine months for their alleged failure to report an attempted fix of a game against Sampdoria in May 2010. Palazzi also requested that Napoli be docked one point.
The disciplinary committee is expected to deliver a verdict on Monday. Should it find the players guilty, it does not necessarily have to accept Palazzi's suggested punishments. It has been widely anticipated in the Italian press that the players would instead be handed six-month bans, and Napoli given a two-point penalty. Any ruling would be subject to appeal, and both Cannavaro and Grava have maintained their innocence.
Mazzarri asked only that people reserve judgment until due process is complete. "There are trials going on in the papers every day," he said when asked if his players' performance had been affected. "The team has been subjected to a bombardment and I don't know what's going on in the lads' heads. I would like these trials to be conducted in the proper chambers."
Much as the impending verdict will be on his mind, Mazzarri is aware that he must also resolve the problems that saw his team throw away an 85th-minute lead at home to a team lingering near the bottom of the table, even with Cannavaro available to perform his usual duties.
• Parma celebrated their 99th birthday on Sunday with an emphatic 4-1 win over Cagliari. Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrated Milan's 113th by posting a video of himself as a dancing elf on Twitter.
• Milan had an identical 4-1 victory to savour. They have now won four straight and sit only six points outside the Champions League places. Antonio Nocerino, scorer of the game's opening goal, dedicated his strike to the victims of Friday's school shooting in Connecticut. "My thoughts are exclusively with them," he said.
• David Pizarro had a personal tragedy on his mind as he returned to the field for the first time since the death of his sister. The midfielder was greeted at the Stadio Artemio Franchi by a pair of Spanish-language banners prepared by the home support, which read: "Pek we are with you, in a heart-felt embrace". Pizarro scored Fiorentina's second goal from the penalty spot as they too triumphed 4-1, over Siena. He pointed to the sky in celebration, before falling to his knees. "He is a great player and an even greater man," said Fiorentina's manager Vincenzo Montella.
• Siena responded to defeat by sacking their manager Serse Cosmi. The Robur are rooted to the bottom of the table, though that is somewhat misleading as an indicator of Cosmi's performance. Were it not for a six-point penalty handed down as a result of the summer match-fixing investigations, they would be 14th.
• Zdenek Zeman refused to speak to the press after Roma's run of five consecutive wins ended with a 1-0 defeat to Chievo. The general manager, Franco Baldini, suggested that Zeman had been unhappy with certain refereeing decisions. There was a suspicion of offside about Sergio Pellissier's 87th-minute winner, though under heavy fog you could hardly blame the officials for being uncertain.
• Juve's win over Atalanta, combined with defeats for Inter and Napoli, sealed the Bianconeri's status as Winter Champions. But Antonio Conte played down newspaper reports that the team would attempt to sign Didier Drogba in the January transfer window. "There will be no top player in January," he said.
Results: Catania 3-1 Sampdoria, Chievo 1-0 Roma, Fiorentina 4-1 Siena, Genoa 1-1 Torino, Juventus 3-0 Atalanta, Lazio 1-0 Internazionale, Milan 4-1 Pescara, Napoli 2-3 Bologna, Parma 4-1 Cagliari, Udinese 1-1 Palermo.