Palermo will have two more matches to play before they know their fate for next season. The Rosanero have booked their spot in the Serie C Playoff final after beating Feralpisalo in both matches with a combined score of 4-0. Now, they will face off against Padova, first away, then at home for the opportunity to go to Serie B!
These past two months have felt like a dream that Palermo and its fans do not want to wake up from. Again, so much credit belongs with Silvio Baldini who now enters into the pantheon of beloved Palermo coaches amongst the likes of Francesco Guidolin and Delio Rossi. There is something romantic about the way Baldini has turned a team that was lackluster and lifeless in the middle of the season into one that is two matches away from an incredible promotion. He was able to make the players believe in themselves and in each other, creating a sense of unity and purpose that has been on display for all of us during this magical playoff run. He has preached on unity and character, the importance of having hopes and dreams and focusing on each step within a journey towards a final destination. His comments in pre-match press conferences and post-match interviews have been golden and occasionally legendary.
It’s not just “behind-the-scenes” stuff either as Baldini has made a difference on the pitch by fixing the formation and moving players into their proper positions to get the most out of them. The explosion of Matteo Brunori happened under Baldini’s watch. The revival of Roberto Crivello is a testament to the work Baldini has done, going from castaway to key contributor down the stretch and in these playoffs – whether in the starting lineup or off the bench. The emergence of Samuele Massolo from backup keeper with six starts in the regular season to unquestioned starter with six starts in as many matches in the playoffs is one of Baldini’s biggest breakthroughs. Aside from all the players, though, it has been a return to the glory days at the Renzo Barbera with three straight matches of over 30,000 supporters in attendance. They have been colorful, exuberant and deafening, providing some of the best footage we have ever seen in Sicily:
The first semifinal match with Feralpisalo was undoubtedly the best calcio we have seen Palermo play in years. Baldini had the boys prepared to play from the opening whistle against a squad that had already knocked out Pescara and then a tough Reggiana side to make it to the semifinals. Brunori and Nicola Valente were particularly lively in the early stages of the first half with the majority of the chances on goal.
And it was just before halftime that Brunori would put Palermo ahead, partly through luck, partly through a perfectly-placed finish. The striker’s movement had been dangerous all match and after he latched onto a ball between three defenders, he lost it temporarily but was bailed out by Feralpisalo defender Corrado’s clumsy attempt at a clearance. Instead of clearing the ball forward or even sideways, Corrado had an awkward backheel flick that went backwards into the box. Brunori never stopped his run and got behind all three defenders where he fired a scorcher into the far post. The movement, the placement, the angle were superb and the Rosanero were set to go into halftime up a goal on the road. But wait – there’s more! A couple minutes into stoppage time and Roberto Floriano doubled the Palermo lead. A beautiful give-and-go between Floriano and Samuele Damiani allowed the Palermo winger to get into the box and deliver a delightful chip over onrushing Feralpisalo keeper Liverani into the back of the net. All of a sudden, Palermo went into the break with a two goal advantage thanks to two goals in the span of three minutes. Feralpisalo were stunned.
In the second half, Feralpisalo came out with the urgency they needed. Within a couple minutes, a VAR review confirmed a handball in the box by Edoardo Lancini and a lifeline was given to the home side via a penalty. Just when you thought the match was about to open up, Massolo rose to the occasion once more and denied Miracoli’s shot! Massolo the miracle worker did it again in the Serie C playoffs – three penalties faced, two saved, and one he got a hand to but couldn’t keep out. After that pivotal moment, the match remained even-keeled over the next 30 minutes. That is, until super sub Edoardo Soleri made his mark. From a Feralpisalo throw in, Gregorio Luperini intercepted it and headed it down into the path of the lanky striker. Soleri let the ball take a bounce before volleying it into the far corner where it ricocheted off the inside of the post and into the back of the net. Palermo were up 3-0 and feeling great with a monstrous result in the away leg.
As Palermo headed into the return leg at the Renzo Barbera, they knew they had a comfortable lead while also trying to avoid the mistakes made against Virtus Entella. Another match at the Barbera meant another attendance record smashed with over 35,000 fans this time to take in the game against Feralpisalo. Considering the visitors would not have any travelling fans to watch them play, Palermo opened up the typically reserved visitors section to the Rosanero faithful so even more seats could be sold. The result was a majestic display of pink and black throughout the stadium against the backdrop of a golden sunset as day gave way into night. Furthermore, a wonderful gesture by Feralpisalo as the visitors warmed up in special shirts with famous Palermo anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino emblazoned on the front.
The visitors came out fairly strong, not giving up all hope despite facing a 3-0 deficit in a hostile environment. They had a couple of shots and chances early on but each attempt was denied by the Rosanero defense or keeper Massolo. Both sides exchanged chances throughout the rest of the first half before Palermo would once again find a breakthrough due to a Feralpisalo defensive error. This time, it was ex-Rosanero defender Eros Pisano who lost the ball in his own half under pressure from Luperini. After stealing the ball, Luperini sent Brunori through on goal – once again on an expertly-timed run. As Pisano hopelessly tried to catch Brunori from behind, the Palermo striker calmly pushed the ball past a charging Liverani and the Rosanero went up 1-0. To make matters worse for the ex-Palermo man, Pisano crumbled to the ground clutching at his Achilles and would have to leave the match. Tests after the game confirmed it to be a ruptured Achilles. From that point on, Feralpisalo realized their fate was sealed with only 45 minutes left to play and in need of at least four goals to put the match into extra time and five to win. The final whistle eventually sounded. The celebrations began. Palermo were in the Serie C Playoff final!
There are no guarantees in calcio. And the matches against Padova – a side that the Rosanero supporters share a gemellaggio with (a concept in football where two fan bases are linked, or are friendly with one another) – will not be easy. Padova have the same goal as Palermo do, to reach Serie B. They have a team that was built for the push to the second division and we can expect a dog fight across both matches. What we do know is that what we have witnessed over these playoffs is the re-emergence of a club, a fan base and a passion not seen since the late 2000s. Regardless of the outcome over these next two matches across the next two weeks, we should always remember these moments we’ve experienced and realize that this is what this club, this city and these fans deserve.
So, is it all a dream? Is it destiny? The answer to either of those questions may be “no”. But do you believe? Yes!