Shortly after Torino drew 0-0 against Ajax in Amsterdam to lose the 1992 UEFA Cup final, a dejected Roberto Cravero said:
“There is only one club in the world who could lose a final like this. This is Torino. We are cursed. I don’t know what to say.”
It would have been hard to disagree with the Granata's captain, for his side had fallen just short of beating one of the giants of European football in what would have been the perfect ending to an exhilarating cup run.
If the result hurt – Torino had never reached the final stage of a major European competition before – the manner of the defeat was even more painful. Having drawn 2-2 at home in the first leg, Torino dominated Ajax on their own turf, bombarding Stanley Menzo’s goal only to be denied by the woodwork three times.
Late in the game, Cravero looked to have been fouled in Ajax’s penalty box, but referee Zoran Petrović waved play on, prompting Torino head coach, Emiliano Mondonico, to lift a chair above his head and aim it towards the sky in frustration. The image became an enduring memory of Torino’s sense of injustice and misfortune.
A year later, the curse the Torino captain (who had by then joined Lazio) had bemoaned looked about to be lifted, as the Granata reached their 13th Coppa Italia final in spectacular fashion.
Having safely negotiated their way past Monza and Bari in the first two rounds, Torino overcame Lazio in a quarter final tie characterised by late goals. In the first leg in Rome, Mondonico’s men found themselves 2-0 down within 35 minutes, before rallying to rescue a 2-2 draw thanks to a late Vincenzo ‘Enzo’ Scifo goal, which would prove crucial for the outcome of the tie.
Leading 3-0 with four minutes left in the second leg, Torino almost conspired to shoot themselves in the foot as goals from Giuseppe Signori and Aaron Winter gave a Lazio a glimmer of hope. Ultimately, however, Mondonico’s troops had done enough to guarantee themselves a spot in the semi-finals against local rivals and eternal foes Juventus.
Between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the Old Lady was far from the all-conquering side that has swept rivals aside for the last six seasons. Nevertheless, they remained a side packed with talent and would indeed lift the UEFA Cup at the end of the season, adding to the title they had won in 1990.
However, under Mondonico’s tutelage, Torino had shrugged off any inferiority complex with their cross-town rivals, finishing above them in Serie A during the 1990-91 season – their first campaign back in Serie A since their relegation in 1989 and Mondonico’s debut season at the Granata.
And yet, Torino remained underdogs going into the two-legged affair. The side were coming off the back of an uninspiring Serie A campaign, which would eventually seem them finish ninth in the table. Moreover, along with Cravero, a number of key players from the UEFA Cup final side had moved on.
Marauding left-back Roberto “Rambo” Policano had left for Napoli, mercurial Spanish midfielder Rafael Martin Vazquez had moved to Olympique Marseille and local golden boy Gianluigi Lentini had joined AC Milan for a world-record fee. But Toro had made some shrewd acquisitions themselves; Uruguay striker Carlos Aguilera had joined from Genoa, Andrea Silenzi’s arrival from Napoli provided competition up-front for Walter Casagrande, while Daniele Fortunato replaced Cravero in the rearguard in front of goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani.
At home for the first leg, Torino needed a strike from 21-year-old Paolo Poggi 10 minutes from time to reply to a Roberto Baggio penalty, before coming back twice to draw the second leg 2-2 and go through on away goals, with Poggi again on the scoresheet after coming off the bench. Modonico’s Toro never did things the easy way, but their fighting spirit and organization was enough to match Italy’s finest.
For a club embodying perennial struggle like few others in world football, the prospect of facing Roma in the final evoked painful memories. The Granata had already lost three times in previous Coppa Italia finals to the Giallorossi, including twice in consecutive years in 1980 and 1981, as Torino reached three finals in as many seasons without winning one.
Still, curses are there to be broken and Torino set about doing just that in the first leg, routing Roma 3-0 after goals from Sandro Cois and Fortunato followed a Silvano Benedetti own goal. The Granata’s opener looked to be a positive omen for the hosts, especially given that Benedetti had spent nine seasons with Torino before moving to Roma. However, those thinking that fate might finally be turning for Mondonico’s men were in for a rude awakening a week later.
Desperate to lift a second Coppa Italia in three seasons, Roma began the second leg with the foot firmly on the accelerator, with Marchegiani thrice denying Andrea Carnevale in the opening salvo. Halfway through the first half, however, the Giallorossi took the lead, after Giuseppe Giannini converted a dubious penalty awarded after the faintest of contacts between Cois and Carnevale.
However, with Roma searching for a second, Silenzi, born and bred in the Eternal City, drilled home the equaliser on the stroke of half-time after some excellent work in the box. With 45 minutes left, Torino led 4-1 on aggregate and Roma needed four goals.
Within four minutes of the restart, the Giallorossi’s needs were halved. First, Ruggiero Rizzitelli headed home a Siniša Mihajlović corner before referee Carlo Sguizzato, officiating his last ever game, pointed to the spot for the second time in the game, after Roberto Mussi appeared to have tripped Thomas Hassler in the box.
Giannini made no mistake from the spot, putting Vujadin Boskov’s men 3-1 in front. Torino, still leading 4-3 on aggregate, dug deep as they had done throughout their cup run and, four minutes later, Silenzi netted his second of the game with a powerful header. Within two minutes, however, Sguizzato would take centre stage once again, awarding Roma their third penalty of the game after Cois and Carnevale tussled in the box.
Giannini completed his hat-trick of penalties and by the time Mihajlović scored a trademark free-kick 10 minutes later, Torino were 5-2 down and staring down the barrel with another 25 minutes left on the clock.
There is only one club in the world who could lose a final like this. This is Torino. We are cursed.
Mondonico and Torino fans watching in the ground and at home must have wondered whether Cravero’s words would again provide the epitaph to another thrilling, but ultimately fruitless, season. The fatal blow looked to be inevitable, as Boskov’s men poured forward in search of a sixth goal.
Giannini, infallible from the penalty spot throughout the game, was denied by the post, before Marchegiani repelled Hassler’s point-blank header as Torino, bloodied and bruised like a heavyweight struggling to beat the count, managed to hold on. The triumph may not have erased the painful memories of Toro’s UEFA Cup defeat, but Mondonico and his side had finally got their hands on some well-deserved silverware.
However, in a perverse twist of fate, the Coppa Italia triumph – the club’s first major trophy since the Scudetto in 1976 – marked the beginning of the end for that side.
Gian Mauro Borsano, the club president who had bankrolled the team in the early 1990s, had already left the club in February and his successor, Roberto Goveani, would do so halfway through the 1993-94 season. Mondonico, too, would depart in 1994 as the Turin club stumbled from one financial travail to the other, culminating with relegation to Serie B at the end of the 1995-96 season.
For one night in Rome, however, the curse had been lifted.
Words by Dan Cancian: @mufc_dan87
'A journalist by trade and a glory hunter since birth, Dan is a regular contributor to Red News, Manchester United's oldest fanzine and to other United websites. Fell in love with Italian football when it was cool.'