The Milan supporters behind the press box in the Tribuna Rossa craned their necks, trying to catch a replay on the journalists' TV screens. Others reached for their phones to demand answers from friends sat watching at home. But most of the 50,000 in attendance at San Siro didn't bother. They needed no confirmation of what they had already seen: Sulley Muntari's header entering the Juventus goal before being pushed back out by Gigi Buffon.
And yet no goal had been awarded. At first it seemed that one had, the referee Paolo Tagliavento signalling for the centre circle as Milan's players celebrated and more than one Juventus defender stood staring at the ground. But the linesman, Roberto Romagnoli, had not seen the ball cross the line. "It didn't go in," he is reported to have told Tagliavento via the referee's earpiece as Juventus launched an opportunistic counter. "I'm certain."
What he had seen to make him so sure only he can know. Within moments TV screengrabs had begun to appear on Twitter and internet messageboards – showing not only that the ball had been several feet over the line but also that Romagnoli was perfectly positioned to make the call. Bewilderment gave way to rage. The cheers that had caught in Milan supporters' throats were transformed into a chant directed at their opponents: "Sapete solo rubare" – "you only know how to steal".
Nor was it just supporters losing their heads. In the directors' seats the Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, turned on the referees' association president, Marcello Nicchi – telling him he ought to be ashamed – before exchanging similarly furious words with the Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli. He then stormed down to the tunnel.
There Galliani would engage in a further set-to with Antonio Conte at half-time, accusing the opposition manager of having influenced the officials with his complaints over refereeing decisions in recent matches. Juventus have been awarded only one penalty all season – the fewest of any team in the division – and had been vocal in their protests over non-decisions in draws this month against Siena and Parma.
"Look what happens when you spend the whole week crying," Galliani is reported to have said. Conte's apparent reply was scathing: "What a pulpit, you lot are the mafia of football." Little wonder that more than one newspaper should use the term "open warfare" to describe the situation between the two clubs in the aftermath of the game.
For many years Milan and Juventus had enjoyed a highly convivial relationship– frequently battling side-by-side on matters of league governance and even co-operating in the transfer market. When Buffon was injured in a pre-season friendly against Milan in the summer of 2005, the Rossoneri immediately delivered their rivals Christian Abbiati on a free loan. Lately, though, that relationship has been degenerating.
It was clear already in the buildup to this game that Juventus's protests over penalty decisions had irked Milan, with their manager, Massimiliano Allegri, declaring after Giorgio Chiellini's goal had helped their title rivals to victory over Catania on 18 February that "it would have amused me a lot" had the goal been disallowed for an apparent shove by the defender in the buildup. "Fortunately they gave it," continued Allegri, "because otherwise we would have had to sit through another week-long sermon."
Milan had been further incensed by the failure of their own appeal to cut Zlatan Ibrahimovic's ban for slapping Napoli's Salvatore Aronica from three games to two – a reduction which would have made the Swede available for this game. Helping matters none was the fact that Nicola Rizzoli, the official who sent Ibrahimovic off, was named as the fourth official for this fixture. Allegri, normally so cool on the sideline, would engage him in a constant and heated dialogue.
Yet despite the absence of their top scorer, as well as the influential Kevin-Prince Boateng, Milan began the match in utterly dominant fashion. Much had been made in the buildup to this fixture of the role to be played by the former Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo, yet it was a former Juventus man, Antonio Nocerino, who had opened the scoring after 14 minutes with a deflected drive from more than 20 yards out.
Despite their fury over the non-awarding of Muntari's strike 10 minutes later, Milan remained utterly in control. Juventus's success in reaching this stage of the season unbeaten has been in great part attributed to the work-rate that Conte has been able to instil in his players yet it was Milan who seemed to be moving with the greater energy and purpose. Although Juventus enjoyed their share of possession, they seemed incapable of hurting their opponents – while Milan threatened constantly through the running of Robinho and co.
As Milan's players began to tire, however, Conte was able to make the changes that turned the match – abandoning his team's initial 3-5-2 for a 4-3-3 at half-time, before introducing Mirko Vucinic and later Alessandro Matri in place of Marco Borriello and Fabio Quagliarella up front. With just over 10 minutes to go Vucinic played in Matri for an equaliser – which Romagnoli incorrectly ruled out for offside.
If this oversight might have been portrayed as levelling things up then it certainly did not feel that way to Milan's supporters when Matri converted a cross from another Juve substitute, Simone Pepe, four minutes later. Yes, both teams had seen a goal wrongly chalked off by the same linesman – Romagnoli – but the Rossoneri could argue reasonably enough that at 2-0 the entire complexion of the game would have changed. Such a fightback might simply never have been on the cards.
"I won't speak about refereeing decisions any more unless I have [Beppe] Marotta's permission," quipped Allegri afterwards – referencing a comment by the Juventus general manager about not commenting on other people's affairs – but then he did anyway. "Unfortunately that incident falsified the match. Maybe they made a mistake when drawing up the pitch. Perhaps the goalline was a bit too thick."
His Juventus counterpart Conte acknowledged that he – along with everyone else – had allowed things to get out of hand. "It's disappointing, but this match had become too charged – for everyone," he said. "An ugly atmosphere in general, and I'm referring to everyone: myself included. Things happened that have nothing to do with football … Milan deserved more, and tonight they showed all their strength, despite many important absences."
The Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi, whose day had started rather better when judges ruled that the statute of limitations had run out in the trial over his alleged bribing of the British lawyer David Mills, did not initially speak to reporters, but later saw an opportunity to revisit a subject he has raised in the past: the use of video technology.
"The final results was falsified by this refereeing error," he said. "I don't think Tagliavento was conditioned by Juve's complaints. It was a mistake which can happen … but I have always supported the use of technology on the pitch. In matches as important as this, it would make sense for the referee to have a way of verifying decisions. In a sport where certain decisions can become very important from an economic standpoint, it would be desirable."
His words found much support among the Italian press, though some would still prefer to see the use of two additional officials behind the goalline, as has been experimented with by Uefa in European competition. What is known is that we cannot always rely on players' sportsmanship in such situations – which Buffon candidly acknowledged.
"I didn't realise the ball had gone in, but honestly I have to tell you that I definitely wouldn't have told the referee [if I had known]," said the Juventus goalkeeper – a comment which has inevitably provoked outrage in some quarters. "He said things that he should not have," Nicchi told Radio Anch'io Lo Sport. "This is not a good example for youngsters."
Perhaps not, but then neither is punching another man in the ribs – as Philippe Mexès did to Borriello in an incident missed by the referee but sure to be picked up by the disciplinary panel – or elbowing an opponent, as Milan accused Pirlo of doing to Marc van Bommel in a statement released on their official website. Nor could the behaviour of club officials on either side of the divide be deemed exemplary in that regard, while Arturo Vidal's last minute sending off hardly helped.
Somewhere in among it all, though, was a highly compelling game of football, which leaves the title race incredibly finely poised: with Juventus trailing Milan by a point but having a game in hand: away to Bologna on 7 March. If not proud of events on Saturday night, supporters can nevertheless reserve the right to be enthralled.
• Another week, another defeat for Internazionale and further suggestions that Claudio Ranieri's time as manager of the club could be nearing an end. It seems unreasonable to judge anyone too harshly for losing away to Napoli – but the Nerazzurri have failed to score in their past five games (and seven of their past eight) in all competitions. Their 11 defeats in the league are more than they have ever suffered in the first 25 league games of a season. Ranieri says he will not resign, and that the players still back him, but it remains to be seen how far Massimo Moratti's patience will stretch.
• Also not resigning this week: Edy Reja – who attempted to do so before Lazio's Europa League second leg against Atlético Madrid, but has seemingly decided to stay on for the time being after talking with the owner Claudio Lotito. Gianfranco Zola had been lined up as a potential replacement – with the former Chelsea player's son, Andrea, saying on Twitter that a deal would be announced on Monday – but Reja confirmed his change of heart before Sunday's fixture against Fiorentina, which Lazio won through a goal from Miroslav Klose. "Will I stay till the end [of the season]? This I don't know, in football you can never say never," said Reja after the game. "I know Zola, we speak often on the phone. I hope that he will get to be a manager in Italy soon, maybe even at Lazio."
• Udinese's Francesco Guidolin has been named as the winner of the Panchina d'Oro (Golden Bench) award – given to Serie A's best manager – for the 2010-11 season. At this rate he will be a strong contender for 2011-12 as well. His team put three goals past a Bologna team that had conceded only one in their previous five games, securing the win that keeps them level with Lazio in third after a week in which they also scored three away to PAOK Salonika in the Europa League despite missing not only Mauricio Isla (out for the rest of the season) but also Antonio Di Natale. The latter returned on Sunday to score the opening goal from the penalty spot. He leads Serie A with 18 goals this season.
• Roma's Fabio Borini has received his first call-up to the senior national side, having impressed since being thrust into regular first-team duty when Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was injured at the start of the year. Borini scored his seventh goal in 15 Serie A fixtures on Sunday against Atalanta, though the Giallorossi still lost 4-1 at Atalanta: with Osvaldo sent off for kicking Luca Cigarini. The manager Luis Enrique was forced afterwards to defend his decision to leave out Daniele De Rossi, who had been late for a meeting during the week. "I would and will do the same thing again," said Enrique.
• Atalanta were able to win on the back of a hat-trick from Germán Denis, who has 15 goals for the season. Who saw this coming from a player who had never once reached double figures in three seasons at Napoli, then Udinese? Not even his own club, who included a tidy bonus in his contract should he reach 10 goals when they signed him in the summer.
• Mario Beretta became Cesena's third manager of the season when he replaced Daniele Arrigoni last week, but there was no sign of improvement as he made his debut at Chievo on Sunday, the Cavallucci Marini losing 1-0 to remain bottom on 16 points – already 10 from safety.
Results: Atalanta 4-1 Roma, Bologna 1-3 Udinese, Cagliari 1-2 Lecce, Catania 3-1 Novara, Chievo 1-0 Cesena, Genoa 2-2 Parma, Lazio 1-0 Fiorentina, Milan 1-1 Juventus, Napoli 1-0 Inter, Siena 4-1 Palermo.