Romelu Lukaku was dramatically cleared to face Juventus in the second leg of Inter’s Coppa Italia semi-final as Italian football chiefs rescinded the red card he received for standing up to racist abuse.
An intervention on Saturday from the president of the Italian FA (FIGC), Gabriele Gravina, brought about the cancellation of Lukaku’s second yellow card in the first leg of the Juventus tie.
That was despite the FIGC on Friday announcing the ban would stand, which was followed by an outraged response from Inter.
Inter reacted with dismay and “great sorrow” to Friday’s ruling, saying it appeared Lukaku had been judged “the only guilty party” despite being the victim.
Gravina’s decision to subsequently quash the verdict was warmly welcomed by Lukaku, who said in a statement on Inter’s website: “I am really happy about this decision from the president of the FIGC, who has shown great sensitivity to the situation.
“I believe that thanks to his intervention, justice has been done and this sends out a great message to the whole world of sport and beyond. This has shown that the desire is there to fight racism.”
The initial decision to uphold the red card and suspension had all the attributes of an embarrassing own goal for the FIGC amid efforts to show they take racism seriously.
Belgian striker Lukaku converted a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time to earn Inter a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first leg on April 4 at the Allianz Stadium.
He then used his finger to shush the home fans’ vitriol and that reaction was deemed a bookable offence by referee Davide Massa. Lukaku had already been booked for a foul in the 80th minute, so the second yellow card saw him dismissed.
The Inter frontman, who is on loan from Chelsea, subsequently demanded action from Italian authorities after the latest case of him being targeted for abuse, while team-mate Edin Dzeko described the treatment from the Juventus fans as something “that should never happen”.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino labelled the abuse “unacceptable” and called for those responsible to be punished.
A partial stadium closure was initially imposed on Juventus as a result of Lukaku being targeted, with the section from where the abuse came ordered to be shut for one game, but that decision was overturned, without an explanation being offered.
The second leg will take place on Wednesday at San Siro, and Inter head coach Simone Inzaghi will be relieved to have Lukaku available.
Saturday’s apparent common sense decision from the FIGC was announced in a statement to Italian media, which announced Lukaku had been pardoned “in an exceptional and extraordinary way”.
The FIGC statement added: “The principle of the fight against all forms of racism is a fundamental element of the sports system.”
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