A city can have too many local derbies, a pressured manager of a club in London once declared. In the television age, a continent might sooner or later wonder if it is a good idea to schedule so many of its famous derbies on a single weekend. From Lisbon to Liverpool to London over the course of Saturday and Sunday, various places found themselves split into two, before a global audience, but few in quite as fiery a manner as the Italian port of Genoa.
On the evidence of Saturday night, with its three red cards, two derbies a year is quite sufficient for the people of Genoa. The fans of Sampdoria could certainly have done without this one. Their 3-0 defeat provided further evidence that their early season rush to the top of the Serie A table was a brief fairytale rather than the prelude to a genuine title challenge. They complained after the match about being roughed up by the winners, and Genoa were indeed pugnacious from the start, but both sides knew their neighbours well enough to anticipate some venom. They ended the night even more neighbourly in the league table, too, Genoa's win moving them to within a point of Samp.
The first of several duels took place in the grandstands, Genoa and Samp fans trying to out-pyromaniac one another with flares and fireworks. The so-called Lighthouse Derby - Genoa being a place of sailors - had been lit up. Later, one excitable follower of Sampdoria appeared to have smuggled a hose pipe into the stadium, ingeniously connected it to a water main before aiming it at Genoa supporters. By that stage almost everybody needed something to cool them off.
One who did was Antonio Cassano, who, to his credit, calmed down enough as the game went on to avoid joining the list of dismissals. Sampdoria's gifted striker had released a book a couple of days before the game, its proceeds going to charity, its tone cheerfully self-deprecating. "I've now written more books than I have read," said the player not known for his high level of learning. The work is a list of his favourite sayings. One sprang to mind again and again on Saturday night: "Try not to be impulsive," it goes. "Do what I do. Before you explode, count up to - well, at least up to one."
Cassano was subjected to some brutal challenges, and some provocative words during the derby and Samp detected a strategy from Genoa based on targeting their most creative striker. After only six minutes, Marco Rossi inelegantly fouled him and in the first half-hour it looked as if a series of misdemeanours against him might cause Cassano to boil over. But he kept himself mostly in check, and even earned applause from the Genoa loyalists in the crowd when he kicked the ball out of play while an opponent lay injured on the field. Genoa coach Gian Piero Gasperini also apologised to Cassano when Genoa's Giuseppe Sculli, by then substituted, shouted insults at Cassano from the bench.
Gasperini did not quite say sorry for the vigour of his team's approach to the game, though. "We always seek to close down our opponents," he admitted, responding to Sampdoria complaints. "Genoa were more aggressive than us, and that is how they have been as a team for many years," sighed Luigi Del Neri, his Sampdoria counterpart. "We are a young side and they have more experience than us." Del Neri was a little unhappy with the decision that gave an early advantage to Genoa, a penalty conceded by Reto Ziegler, who brought down Rodrigo Palacio. Omar Milanetto converted, so Genoa had a lead after 10 minutes. Just before the interval Giuseppe Biava collected his second yellow card, for handball, to leave Genoa with 10 men.
Sampdoria still held the numerical advantage when Marco Rossi put Genoa 2-0 up. Samp lost that when their own Marco Rossi was sent off for his second caution, consequence of a late tackle. The third goal, another penalty given for another Ziegler foul, stimulated more hot tempers, Samp players outraged by the celebrations of Raffaele Palladino, who cupped his hand around his ear, a gesture aimed at Sampdoria fans. As if to make sure the red card tally kept up with the number of goals, Sampdoria's Fabrizio Cacciatore was then dismissed three minutes from full-time. It had been quite a night.