With their Serie A status hanging in the balance following a disappointing first half of the 2014/15 season, Parma entered the last 16 stage of the Coppa Italia looking to gain some much-needed respite after six difficult months in Italy’s top flight.
Roberto Donadoni’s men were handed a home tie against fellow basement strugglers Cagliari earlier this month, they themselves having gone through the motions after replacing Zdenek Zeman with ex-Gialloblu legend Gianfranco Zola as manager.
With the half-time whistle beckoning and the scores level after both sides had nullified each other out at the Stadio Ennio Tardini, Parma were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead when they won a free-kick just shy of the Cagliari box.
Antonio Cassano – who recently left the club as a free agent – dinked the set-piece into the opposition area which was inadvertently flicked on by a Rossoblu defender into the path of Gabriel Paletta. Off balance, the Italian international magnificently hooked the ball into the top corner to give Parma an advantage in the tie.
But instead of building on their lead after the interval, the Gialloblu were made to pay for their defensive frailties on 69 minutes when a Cagliari counter attack spearheaded by Diego Farias saw the striker have his shot spilled by former Bianconero Antonio Mirante with Marco Sau on hand to tap home from close range.
As extra-time and possibly penalties loomed, an unlikely hero in the form of right-back Andrea Rispoli picked the ball up just inside the Cagliari half, drove forward as he slalomed past a couple of challenges before firing under Simone Colombi’s despairing dive to make it 2-1 with only six minutes to go.
The final whistle then brought scenes of jubilation as the Gialloblu set up a 'David versus Goliath' Coppa Italia quarter-final clash with league leaders Juventus, who had dispatched Hellas Verona 7-0 in Turin at the last 16 stage the following evening. But as the old adage goes in football, the formbook goes out of the window when it comes to cup contests and anything could truly happen tomorrow night at the Tardini.