The same instincts that led Massimo Taibi to make many saves throughout his career meant he immediately sensed what must have happened. His phone was ringing off the hook.”It was like I’d scored all over again,” he wrote in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
In England, Taibi is known – a little harshly – as the ‘Blind Venetian’ for the mistakes he made during his brief spell at Manchester United. In Italy, however, he is remembered more favourably.Until Sunday, he was the last goalkeeper to score in Serie A, having famously headed in an equaliser for Reggina against Udinese two minutes from time.That was in 2001, shortly after he returned to Italy to rebuild his career.At the time, nobody could quite believe it, and you could understand why. It happened on April Fool’s Day.
On Sunday, Benevento were 2-1 down to seven-time European champions AC Milan.As the game went into stoppage time the newly promoted side were just seconds away from a new low. Benevento had already made the worst start to a season in Serie A history, doubling down on the seven defeats Venezia and Legnano opened the campaign with in 1949 and 1951.
And when Juventus came back from behind to beat them in Turin a month ago, they equalled a record many Manchester United fans probably didn’t know belonged to them.United failed to pick up a single point in the first 12 games of the 1930-31 season. The run was long forgotten in Europe’s top five leagues’ hall of shame.That is, until Benevento came along.
If they fell to defeat again on Sunday they would match the longest losing streak in absolute in Serie A; Brescia’s 15-game slide between February and May 1995, which is redeemed only in the eyes of history by the debut granted to a teenage Andrea Pirlo. The 92nd-minute free-kick given away just to the right of Milan’s penalty area offered a feint glimmer of hope they might be able to avoid it.At this precise moment the Benevento bench starts shouting: “Sali! Sali!” at goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli. “Get up! Get up!”He had been playing on the half-way line for the last five minutes anyway.
Down to 10 men, Milan were defending in and around their own penalty. Nikola Kalinic, the former Blackburn Rovers striker who might ordinarily be expected to stay up and give Milan a threat was also at the back.Benevento had never scored more than once all season. But as Danilo Cataldi whips the ball in, something truly amazing happens. “I jumped and closed my eyes,” Brignoli explained. “It was more the dive of a goalkeeper than a striker.”
Brignoli’s header caught goalkeeping wunderkind Gigio Donnarumma flat-footed and settled in the bottom corner. The Vigorito went crazy.To former team-mate Emiliano Viviano, Brignoli resembled Oliver Bierhoff, the former AC Milan and Udinese striker who, for years, held the record for headed goals in Serie A.The comparison Brignoli liked most, though, was straight out of Blue Planet. “A dolphin. It’s a beautiful and appropriate comparison,” he said. “Perfect for a goalkeeper.”
He becomes only the fifth goalkeeper to score in Italy’s top flight after Lucidio Sentimenti, Antonio Rigamonti, Michelangelo Rampulla and Taibi. In the end all Brignoli’s goal clinched was a point. And yet it felt like so much more. It was Benevento’s first ever in Serie A. But judging by the joy it brought, the tears it jerked, it could have easily been nine or 10.That’s how many points Benevento feel they should have after 15 games. They have been desperately unlucky at times this season.
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