Juventus might just have struck the decisive blow in the Serie A title race on Sunday night, routing Roma 4-0 to establish a three point lead over Milan with five games to play. Their remaining fixtures pit them against the division's bottom three teams, 16th-placed Cagliari at a neutral site, then 14th-placed Atalanta at home. Still unbeaten under Antonio Conte, Juventus also hold the tie-breaker over Milan, by virtue of head-to-head results, should the two teams finish level.
Yet if such achievements ought to have secured top billing for a team who finished seventh in each of the last two Serie A campaigns, events elsewhere also commanded the attention. As remarkable as Juve's performance was against a Roma team who had begun the weekend fifth in Serie A, it still did not shock viewers as much as the scenes earlier on Sunday afternoon at Genoa's Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
"A chilling spectacle … right out of the dark ages," writes Andrea Monti in Monday's Gazzetta dello Sport, seeking to convey the mood from a match at which the players themselves were effectively made hostage to a group of hostile Ultras. With their team trailing 4-0 to Siena early in the second half, a group of between 60-80 home fans had left their seats in the north stand and broken into the family section, before beginning to throw fireworks on to the pitch. At the stadium where Italy's Euro 2012 qualifier against Serbia had been abandoned under similar circumstances 18 months earlier, these were evocative scenes.
The referee, Paolo Tagliavento, had no choice but to halt the match, as members of the group began to climb over the barriers between them and the pitch, with some standing on top of the tarpaulin roof of the players' tunnel. With police unable to talk the troublemakers down, and apparently unwilling to use force, Tagliavento led his officials, as well as the Siena players down the tunnel to the changing rooms. They were applauded off by those who had caused the disturbance
Genoa's players, led by the captain Marco Rossi, had in the meantime attempted to negotiate with the protesters, only to be met with the demand that they give up their shirts, of which they were deemed to be unworthy. After consulting with the team president Enrico Preziosi, who had by now joined his players – along with a host of police, stewards and team officials – on the pitch, Rossi duly removed his shirt, and began to collect those of his team-mates.
Many were reluctant, with some, such as Giandomenico Mesto, reduced to floods of tears. Only one, however, would refuse. Giuseppe Sculli – who had been substituted moments before the disturbances broke out – instead marched over to the tunnel to confront the troublemakers himself. As he approached one commanded him to give up his shirt. "I'm not taking it off," he replied before clambering up to grab one ringleader around the back of the head and pull him in for a tete a tete. "It's mine."
The mythology around Sculli would have it that he is a man not to be crossed. His grandfather Giuseppe Morabito was arrested in 2004 for drug trafficking – having previously been in hiding for 12 years – and is thought to have been a leading figure in Calabria's 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate. Morabito was also known to adore his grandson, having followed his career closely and hosted post-game meals for the player's youth team when Sculli was a boy.
In reality, of course, the sins of the grandfather should not be borne by the grandson. Sculli has made his own missteps – receiving an eight-month ban in 2006 for his alleged involvement in fixing a match several years earlier – and was forced to deny further accusations last month when his name was raised by a defendant in the ongoing Calcioscomesse investigations. But there is no suggestion he was even aware of Morabito's dealings. Indeed, following the latter's arrest in 2004, he told Corriere della Sera he would "never believe" the charges against his grandfather.
What Sculli certainly did take from Morabito, however, was a refusal to be cowed. "He told me to always walk with my head held high because I had nothing to be ashamed of," said the player in the same interview. "Even now that he finds himself closed in a cell, accused of being an 'Ndrangheta boss, I still walk with my head held high because I still have nothing to be ashamed of."
It was with that same spirit that Sculli approached the protesters on Sunday, marching past those who, fearful that he could exacerbate the situation, attempted to prevent him from doing so. Instead, after several minutes of finger pointing and shouted exchanges, he climbed back down from hoarding beside the tunnel with a smile on his face. The situation had been resolved; the fans would back down.
He had been helped by the scoreboard operator too, who flashed up the news that Lazio had taken the lead against Genoa's relegation rivals Lecce. The latter have quietly become one of Serie A's form teams over the last two months but remained two points behind Genoa – who have not won a game since 5 February – in 18th place (though a late equaliser would cut the gap to one point by the end of the day). The Ultras returned to the stands, moving on to a more controlled protest in which they turned their backs to the field and swayed in unison.
The match would finish 4-1 to Siena, Genoa pulling one goal back through a Cristiano Del Grosso own goal. Preziosi duly fired the manager Alberto Malesani later in the evening, the second time he has ditched the same manager this season, having previously reinstated him after a brief and unsuccessful stint with Pasquale Marino. He will be replaced by the former QPR manager Luigi De Canio.
Preziosi also condemned the protesters, saying he would like to see them all thrown in jail. The relationship between team and fans had been growing increasingly fraught for some weeks, with a group successfully preventing the team bus from leaving the stadium for several hours after their home draw with Cesena earlier this month. But the owner remains confident that these are the acts of a minority.
"We cannot be made to submit to their acts of violence, being held hostage by 60-80 delinquents – people who throw fireworks and scare children," he said. "I will not hide from my responsibilities, I have already said many times that I am to blame, but I can't go down on my knees every day before the north stand. They say Genoa is theirs, so why don't they come and buy it? In the past two years, I have invested €44m to offset our losses, but these people consider themselves to be in charge."
Preziosi followed up by saying that he hoped the authorities would order his team to play their remaining games either behind closed doors or at a neutral venue, thereby reducing the pressure brought on his players by these fans. That seems a distinct probability in the circumstances, with the presidents of the Italian Football Federation, Serie A, the Players' Association and the national Olympic Committee all quick to join in condemning events on Sunday.
Events which could not be washed away even by news that – after two years away – Juventus had at last secured their return to the Champions League. It is easy to forget, with a Scudetto now in prospect, how distant a goal that once seemed.
• Juventus weren't the only ones celebrating their victory – the result also leaving Bayer Leverkusen €2m richer, as qualification for the Champions League triggered a bonus payment to the German club for the transfer of Arturo Vidal. With the midfielder playing as well as he has this season, it's a fee Juventus will be happy to pay. Vidal's two goals inside the opening eight minutes effectively killed the game as a contest before it had even begun, and there are those who would place him alongside Andrea Pirlo as the team's most important outfield player this season. "I am really happy and proud to have chosen a spectacular club like Juve," said Vidal afterwards. "Also, compared to Germany, the fans here are much more passionate. I like it this way." One can only assume he might have felt differently had he been playing at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris this weekend.
• As for Roma, it was not so much the fact of defeat – although this was their 15th of the season – as the manner of it which was troubling. Luis Enrique's tactical approach looked wrong from the outset, with Daniele De Rossi struggling at centre-back (in fairness, he has performed well when asked to fill in there before now) and Marquinho miscast as a holding midfielder, while the team's ill-discipline has become a major concern. Maarten Stekelenburg was unfortunate to be sent off while giving away a penalty at 2-0, but Erik Lamela will surely receive a retrospective ban for spitting at Stephan Lichtsteiner. Their nine red cards are second most in the league. Gazzetta dello Sport were scathing, awarding Luis Enrique three out of 10 in their ratings, with the comment: "If you expose yourself without protection to the July sun, you'll wind up spending the evening in A&E."
• If Milan are indeed to surrender this year's Scudetto to Juventus, it won't be without a deep and bitter sense of injustice, heightened further this weekend when Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a potential equaliser against Bologna wrongly chalked off for offside. With the ball being cleared out from just a few inches over the goalline, it would have been interesting to see if it would have been given in any case – or if we would have been hearing about a third ghost goal of the season for the Rossoneri. Milan would eventually draw 1-1 through a late Ibrahimovic strike, but scoring at the earlier point might have given them the chance to go on and chase a winner. For once Adriano Galliani declined to comment afterwards. For now.
• The race for third place remains wide open after Lazio's draw with Lecce, the visitors once again snatching something right at the death, Valeri Bojinov prodding home the ugliest of goals to spark a wonderfully delirious aeroplane celebration from his manager Serse Cosmi on the sidelines. "If we had won this we would have had an 80% shot at making the Champions League," lamented the Lazio manager Edy Reja, though with Udinese and Inter both drawing, and Roma defeated, the only rivals to gain any ground on his side were Napoli.
Results: Catania 2-0 Atalanta, Cesena 2-2 Palermo, Chievo 0-0 Udinese, Fiorentina 0-0 Inter, Genoa 1-4 Siena, Juventus 4-0 Roma, Lazio 1-1 Lecce, Milan 1-1 Bologna, Napoli 2-0 Novara, Parma 3-0 Cagliari.