What's the hottest derby in Italy? The Derby della Madonnina? Things in Milan get feisty, but not necessarily firey. The Derby della Italia? Well, things were pretty heated last weekend as Inter Milan beat Juventus, but somehow things never quite reach a boiling point when the supporters don't share the same city. No, the award has to go to the match between AS Roma and Lazio.
The Derby della Captiale isn't played to determine which side is the best in Italy. No, this game is about much more -- which club gets to define Rome, that most glorious of Italian cities. But let's get something straight from the start: these two sides are not as dissimilar as you might believe. While Lazio has the reputation of being a fascist club, both have fascist roots. Roma came into being thanks to an official in the National Socialist Party, while Lazio prevented its football club from being merged into Roma due to the influence of a Socialist general.
Alas, Lazio are more well-known for their fascist leanings, a reputation their ultras do little to dissuade. Like it or not, the mention of the club brings to mind swastika flags and nazi salutes. But it's worth noting that Roma, also, tend to have a hard-core right-wing following, although they're often smarter about not displaying their banners in prominent positions.
With fanbases that are, in general, quite similar, this is a derby that really comes down to the football. The Rome Derby, which began in 1929 with the formation of Roma, has been played 170 times, if you count the 15 "friendly" matches and unofficial tournaments. It's Lazio that comes out on the losing end of history, having won just 47 times, to Roma's 63 victories. In case you're not fond of math, that means the derby ended in a draw 60 times.
It took eight tries for the biancocelesti to grab their first derby victory, although the 3-0 win in 1932 wasn't an official match. Fortunately for Lazio supporters, they managed to win the next Serie A meeting, in October 1932, so they could still hold their heads high. The derby, like all of Italian football, continued throughout the war, as something to distract the Italian people, I suppose.
After the war, the meeting between the two Rome sides was missed for the first time, in 1951-1952, due to Roma being relegated to Serie B. They went straight back up the next season, but Lazio beat them in all three meetings, forming a chain of six consecutive wins. But it was Lazio's turn to drop in 1961, although the two sides met in the Coppa Italia that season, in a match which ended in a 6-4 penalty shootout for the giallorossi. Lazio climbed back up after just two seasons, but fell again in 1971-1972, although they could take comfort from beating their rivals in the Coppa that year.
Oddly enough, relegation sent the biancocelesti rocketing up to the top of Serie A, with a strong season in 1972-1973, including a double over Roma. The scudetto followed in the spring of 1974. It took nearly a decade for Roma to answer, but they won their second title in 1982-1983, a victory likely made sweeter by the fact that Lazio were currently relegated due to a betting scandal. The derby was then put on hold for another three seasons, from 1985-1988, as Lazio again spent time in Serie B thanks to more illegal match-fixing.
Now, both teams sit solidly in Serie A, and take turns involving themselves in European competition. But in the 21st century, the majority of the glory has gone to the giallorossi. In 23 meetings, Roma have won 15 times, Lazio only 6. With the exception of a 5-1 Roma victory in 2001-2002, and a fun 4-2 Lazio win in 2008-2009, these matches tend to be low-scoring affairs
That doesn't mean the derby matches are short on action, though. The rivalry bubbles up inside the players, spilling over into fouls and cards aplenty. At their last meeting, back in March, Roma keeper Maarten Stekelenburg was given a straight red card in the 9th minute after bringing down Lazio forward Miroslav Klose. The decision may have followed the letter of the law, but it still seemed awfully harsh. 10 yellow cards followed, including two to Lazio defender Lionel Scaloni, but the biacocelesti manged to hang on to their lead and win 2-1.
Will we see this much action on Sunday? Conditions sure are perfect for it. Lazio are currently in fifth, with Roma just two points behind, in sixth. It's the giallorossi that are likely to be flying higher, however, after beating Palermo 4-1 last weekend -- even more significant after they'd allowed come from behind wins in their last two matches. Lazio, however, are in sort of a free-fall, made all the more disappointing considering what a bright start to the season they had. After going down to nine men and losing (of course) to Fiorentina, they drew 1-1 at home with Torino before traveling to Sicily to get smashed 4-0 by Catania.
This is, indeed, a battle for the right to hold your head high in Rome -- but this season, especially, it's a battle to show which club can hold their head high throughout Italy.