Football Commentary: Cremonese confirm their class amid the crudity

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SPRING 1973: Brian Clough, the Derby County manager, calls Juventus 'cheating bastards' in Turin after a 3-1 defeat in a European Cup semi- final marred by allegations of corruption. Spring 1993: Arthur Cox is 'bloody disappointed' to lose the Anglo-Italian Cup final at Wembley, but concedes that a 'technically superior' Cremonese deserved their 3-1 victory over Derby.

It may sound like progress in relations between the two footballing cultures. However, the evidence of a not unexciting though ill-tempered match - a fitting climax to a tournament in which 19 players were sent off and 79 booked - was that this competition is an idea whose time has gone.

Like the platform soles off which the model Naomi Campbell recently fell (or did she jump?), the Cup is a relic of the early 1970s for whose revival there is no good practical or logical explanation.

In its original incarnation, Italy sent over the likes of Roma, Fiorentina and Internazionale, receiving Carlisle, Huddersfield and Stoke in return. Brawls were commonplace, and highly implausible final successes for Swindon at Napoli and Blackpool in Bologna underlined how seriously the Serie A giants took it.

The justification for resurrecting the 'Aggro-Italian' in an already- congested fixture calendar (Derby were playing their 54th fixture this season) was at best tenuous. The rationale was the Football League's desire to offer its senior members - the Newcastles and West Hams - a palliative in the aftermath of defeat by the FA over the Premier League. This time the Italians put up such attractions as Cosenza, Lucchese and Cesena, all strictly Serie B. No matter: the final would be at Wembley. As the qualifying stages unfolded, amid acrimony on the pitch and apathy off it, the ultimate destination became the main, perhaps only point.

Derby had been to the twin towers only once since 1946, for the Charity Shield in 1975, so generations of their fans had never seen their team play there. Some 35,000 made the trip - it will be hard to dispel the image of a dozen men in replica Rams shirts engaged in synchronised slashing on the hard shoulder of the M1 on Saturday morning - and swelled the crowd to 37,024, a figure topped only at Ibrox.

That turned it into a home match for Derby . . . and we all know how bad Cox's side are at home. Cremonese, who had also won 3-1 in a group match at the Baseball Ground, showed all the attributes to which our governing bodies pay lip-service before piling on the superfluous fixtures. Well placed for promotion behind Reggiana, they offered touch, vision and pace where Derby could summon only strength and graft.

Corrado Verdelli headed Cremonese into an early lead before a move of illusory promise enabled Marco Gabbiadini to level. The excellence of their goalkeeper, Martin Taylor, making only his 35th appearance in seven years at the club, alone prevented Derby from going in 5-1 down at half- time. Taylor has always come across as a nervous individual, a likeness to Keith Chegwin not enhancing his plausibility. But in the 28th minute he made a fine save to keep out Eligio Nicolini's penalty, and twice used his legs to deny forwards who had sliced through Derby's defence.

He was hard done by when the Basque referee adjudged him to have fouled Andrea Tentoni, who toppled after the fashion of Ms Campbell. Riccardo Maspero's textbook spot- kick just beat his dive, and thereafter the spectacle began to deteriorate. Gabbiadini, whose father comes from Bergamo, 50 miles north of Cremona, and the over-combative Luigi Gualco followed Maspero into Snr Velazquez's notebook after a running battle between them.

Nicolini escaped punishment after stamping on Paul Kitson, while in a more 'serious' match Shane Nicholson would surely have received more than a yellow card for a thigh-high challenge on Matjaz Florjancic.

Cremonese promptly sent on Gustavo Dezotti, one of two Argentinians dismissed in the 1990 World Cup final, which was akin to hosing down a blaze with gasoline. He was soon involved in an altercation with Mark Pembridge, who was left sporting a 'shiner', though neither was cautioned.

Taylor confirmed a favourable impression by tipping a Nicolini shot on to a post, but the tall, elegant Tentoni scored a third goal both he and his team deserved. The Derby supporters then rounded off an afternoon of mutual antagonism by booing the winners on their lap of honour.

When Cremonese's coach, Luigi Simoni, claimed it had generally been 'a sporting match, played in good spirit', journalists of both nationalities tittered in disbelief. It was a rare moment of Anglo-Italian accord.

Goals: Verdelli (11) 1-0; Gabbiadini (23) 1-1; Maspero pen (50) 2-1; Tentoni (84) 3-1.

Cremonese: Turca; Gualco, Pedroni, Cristiani, Colonnese, Verdelli, Giandebiaggi, Nicolini, Tentoni (Montorfano, 86), Maspero, Florjancic (Dezotti, 73).

Derby County: Taylor; Patterson, Forsyth, Nicholson, Coleman, Pembridge, Micklewhite, Goulooze (Hayward, 85), Kitson, Gabbiadini, Johnson (Simpson, 81).

Referee: J-U Velazquez (Spain).

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