Ascoli midfielder Anthony Fontana won the Battle of the Yanks in the Coppa Italia first round, with his injury-time goal overcoming a pair of late assists by Venezia’s Andrija Novakovich to assure victory for Ascoli.
Venezia FC 3 – 4 Ascoli Calcio
Sunday’s meeting between the two Serie B promotion hunters was expected to feature as many as six American players between the two teams, however an outbreak of 13 Covid infections amongst the hosts threw all expectations into disarray.
For Venezia, Tanner Tessmann and Andrija Novakovich both assumed starting roles and were perhaps the team’s two strongest players from start to finish, with the latter providing a pair of assists that almost pulled the team back in the final moments of the game.
Gianluca Busio, who is expected to be a major figure in Venezia’s promotion push in the upcoming Serie B season, was out of action due to the team’s outbreak, along with younger players Jack de Vries and Patrick Leal.
For Ascoli, a generally stronger performance was eventually rewarded with advancement to the next round to face Sampdoria, however it took a spectacular injury-time goal from the former Philadelphia Union player Fontana to finally secure their spot.
Still, the game had enough drama to go around, with the remaining Americans having a pivotal influence on the outcome in the frantic final moments of the game.
It was no surprise when Ascoli took the lead in the 35th minute against their depleted hosts, after Soufiane Bidaoui fought to the endline on the right side and laid the ball a few yard back for Dario Saric to one-time inside the near-post for the 1-0.
The teams remained neck-and-neck throughout the remainder of the first half and much of the second, but Ascoli looked to have sealed the win just before the 70-minute mark when substitute Amato Ciciretti fired a short cross from the right that Marcello Falzerano one-timed from short-range for the 2-0 advantage.
Fontana entered the game in the 80th minute for central midfielder Marcel Büchel, in a move by head coach Cristian Bucchi that would eventually pay dividends.
However, before Ascoli could celebrate their victory, new Venezia arrival Novakovich did his part in what was almost a remarkable come-back from the hosts.
In the 88th minute, a poor clearance by the Ascoli keeper Nicola Leali allowed the America to gain possession at the top left edge of the area. He immediately cut inwards to draw Leali’s attention, before squaring the ball to a wide-open Hilmir Mikaelsson for the easy five-yard finish.
Then barely more than one minute later, he adeptly headed on a long-ball out of the backfield from Polish center back Przemyslaw Wisniewski directly into Mikaelsson’s path, who chipped it with his first touch over the keeper for the last-second equalizer.
With the game looking to be headed to extra time drama, a frantic sequence led to Fontana saving the day for Ascoli, with a spectacular highlight-reel goal that will likely make him a lifetime favorite amongst the Ascoli faithful.
Falzerano fought his way towards the endline, and with no obvious outlet, tried to blindly chip the ball back towards the center of the area. It took a high deflection off of Tessman’s head and eventually fell near the penalty spot.
As luck would have it, Fontana was able to perfectly position himself for a bicycle kick attempt, that took an ever-so-slight deflection off of Noah Baudouin on its way into the right side of the goal for the winner.
With the victory in hand, Fontana and Ascoli will visit Serie A team Sampdoria in the Round of 32 in mid-October. In the meantime, their Serie B season begins on Saturday at home with a visit from Ternana.
Venezia will hope that their missing first-team players will be healthy again before Saturday’s Serie B opener at home against Genoa.