August 15, 2022
Venezia hosted Genoa at Stadio Penzo on Sunday night in the 2022/23 Serie B season opener, both clubs having been relegated from Serie A last season and now aiming to make a push for promotion right back to the top flight. But it would be the Ligurians getting their campaign off on the right foot with a 1-2 victory, after Kelvin Yeboah scored the go-ahead goal in the 85th minute and Domen Črnigoj’s would-be equalizer in the 95th minute was canceled out by VAR.
Venezia manager Ivan Javorčić had nearly a full squad at his disposal, but only after several players missed a week of training due to an outbreak of Covid-19. “We just came out of a very peculiar situation, with many of our guys having not yet recovered to their optimal condition,” Javorčić noted. Nevertheless, the Croatian tactician would deploy a 4-3-3 formation that included new signings Jesse Joronen in goal, Przemysław Wiśniewski at center-back, Francesco Zampano at right-back, Facundo Zabala at left-back, Nicholas Pierini on the wing, and Andrija Novakovich leading the attack, while Aaron Connolly and Magnus Andersen started from the bench.
But the new-look Venezia side would struggle to control the ball and find their passing patterns early in the match. Through the first half hour, Genoa kept 60 percent possession and produced eight shots and seven corners, pinning Venezia back in their own half and choking off their supply line to the front three.
Venezia were nearly undone in the 19th minute when a bit of old-fashioned strike partnership play cut open their backline. From a long ball out of the back down the heart of the pitch, Genoa striker Massimo Coda flicked on to send fellow striker Caleb Ekuban free on goal. Joronen came to rescue, making a fantastic kick save on Ekuban’s low shot to the far post, but Genoa’s quick and tricky interplay was a sign of things to come.
In the 37th minute, Genoa found the opening goal, with a player once again sprung free 1-v-1 against Joronen. The play started back in their own end, as midfielder Gianluca Busio — who lined up at the 6, and is now wearing the number on his shirt this season — delivered a free-kick into the area, but Genoa managed to boot the ball away into the path of winger Manolo Portanova, who latched onto it from the halfway line and was off to the races with only Joronen in front of him. When the Finland international ‘keeper came off his line to cut down the angle, Portanova patiently kept his dribble, took a touch to the outside, and slotted the ball in, just centimeters past the Venezia defenders tracking back at full sprint who desperately slid to prevent the shot from crossing the line.
Needing to change the dynamic of the match, Javorčić brought on speedy winger Dennis Johnsen at half-time to join Novakovich and Pierini in attack, with Ridgeciano Haps dropping back to his customary position at left-back and Zabala coming off. The substitution was a game-changer, as Johnsen’s fleet feet and direct play instantly made Venezia more threatening, and the Norwegian international would be the one to put the game back on level terms.
In the 56th minute, Busio’s sharply hit corner fell to Johnsen at the far post, though he couldn’t react fast enough to stuff it in. But when opportunity knocked again in the 68th minute, Johnsen was ready to pounce.
After Novakovich drew a foul with a tidy bit of hold-up play just outside the box, Pierini went for power and ripped his free-kick on goal, which Genoa ‘keeper Josep Martínez couldn’t handle cleanly, and Johnsen was the man on the spot to drive in the equalizer.
With new life in the match, Venezia continued to press and dominated the ball in the second half, ultimately firing nine shots and out-passing Genoa all over the pitch. But it wouldn’t result in any clear-cut chances, leaving Genoa to bide their time.
In the 87th minute, Genoa would grab a winner against the run of play, thanks to the ingenuity of substitute Yeboah and Iceland international Albert Guðmundsson, who combined to create something out of nothing. Dribbing into the box from the left side, Yeboah skillfully split two defenders and then let the ball run for Guðmundsson, who cut into the space Yebhoah had opened up, darted to the byline, and scooped a short cross back over to Yeboah now making his run to goal. As Guðmundsson’s threat had drawn the attention of Joronen and the Venezia defense, Yeboah was free to head down and into the far post.
Venezia wouldn’t go quietly into the night. Both Johnsen and captain Pietro Ceccaroni had shots saved in stoppage time, before Črnigoj, on as a substitute, apparently made the breakthrough in the 95th minute, punching in the loose ball from a Luca Fiordilino free-kick. But as Stadio Penzo erupted, a VAR check was underway, and the goal would be called back for offside, dealing Venezia a 1-2 defeat after 97 minutes of play.
“We can be satisfied with the substance of the game, although there is still a long way to go,” said Javorčić after the match. “We need to shake off some of the uncertainties we've been dragging around since last year, like our tendency to suffer in the final 20 minutes of the match. But I'm confident after this starting point: we sent an important message today, it was a good game for us in all respects.”
Venezia will look to respond as they travel to Bolzano to face FC Südtirol — newly-promoted under the guidance of Javorčić last season — on Sunday 21 August in Giornata 2 of the 2022/23 Serie B season.