For the longest time this hadn’t been pure El Cholo, not on the surface. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid had come to the Stadio Olimpico and out-passed and out-possessed Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio. No, seriously. Atletico had had 51.2% of the possession. They had made 543 accurate passes to Lazio’s 522.
The team managed by the coach who’s hated holding onto the ball more than any in elite football had gone to the home of the man who loved it the most and denied it to them. In a twisted way, though, it had been very Cholo too… irritate, annoy, stop the opposition from executing plan A. Just the methodology differed.
For 95 minutes it had worked. They’d taken the lead in the 29th minute via a massive deflection on a hopeful hit from distance by Pablo Barrios. The deflection so big, Ivan Provedel in the Lazio goal could only watch it go past in slow motion as he sunk to his knees, his massive frame having been committed to moving in the opposite direction.
Simeone’s Atleti getting a lead is always a bother for opposition and so it was turning out to be in Rome. Lazio had 18 shots on goal before the 95th minute, but they were kept at bay with relative ease. A combination of supremely disciplined defending, some last-ditch challenges, a smattering of luck and Simeone was well on his way to pulling off another 1-0.
In fact, Atleti had had the best chance of the match after the goal — but was only denied by the genius, and bravery, of Provedel. Samuel Lino had the freedom of the box to aim a right footed volley at goal (after setting it up himself with a touch) but Provedel screamed forward to charge him down and bat the ball away from danger.
This is what Provedel does. A late-blooming 29-year-old half-Italian half-Russian from Pordenone (in north-east Italy), he had come into 2023-24 on the back of a brilliant season. He’d been named Serie A goalkeeper of the Year last season after keeping 21 clean sheets (five more than anyone else) and having a better save percentage in the league. And despite the unlucky concession of the goal, he was doing his day-job very well.
But in the 94th minute, he donned a cape and strode out to save Lazio.
Having been waved on by Sarri, he’d wandered up the field for a corner. The clock read 90:00 + 4:07, the game already edging past the 4-minute minimum set out by the assistant referee, when Provedel first entered the Atleti box. The corner was rubbish, Danilo Cataldi’s low delivery not clearing the first man.
Atleti, though, gave him a second chance with an uncharacteristically rushed clearance. Cataldi controlled it and moved it inside to main man Luis Alberto. A touch to get it out of his feet and the Spanish playmaker was lifting it into the far post… where in ghosted a massive figure in bright yellow. How they’d missed him, you’ll never know, but Atletico hadn’t paid attention to Provedel and he’d made them pay: the sensational run finished with a simple powerful header that Jan Oblak had no chance with.
Provedel had played striker till he was 15, when inspired by Francesco Toldo, he’d decided to become a keeper. Here he was, a decade and a half later, doing what he had always done as a boy. Making the run, scoring the goal.
1-1, the goalkeeper levelling things up with the very last touch of the game. Ah….
There are few things more visceral than a goalkeeper scoring a non-penalty goal in football. Perhaps it’s because they are the only people on the pitch whose job description says ‘no goals today, please’; perhaps it’s the sheer size of them, the pop-out colours standing out so starkly in the sea of uniform jerseys…
For those reasons and more, for doing his 9-5 gig well and then going all-out superhero after that, Ivan Provedel’s equaliser is ESPN’s first moment of the matchday from the 2023-24 season of the UEFA Champions League.
A goalkeeper scoring a header on the opening day of the season? Oh, this promises to be a good one, eh?