Internazionale look set to win their first Serie A title in 13 years when they headed to Stadio Olimpico to face SS Lazio on 5th May 2002.
What would follow would be one of the most extraordinary finales in Italian football history and one of the biggest bottlejobs in the history of mankind.
Coming into the final fixture, three teams could mathematically win the Scudetto: Roma in third, Juventus in second, with Inter top of the table.
Journalists and fans had considered the game a formality as Lazio’s season was effectively over because they could not qualify for the Champions League.
And, well, Lazio fans wanted Inter to beat them. They actively asked their own players to lose by revealing a sign pre-game that read: ‘Neither Juve, nor Roma, Inter Champions’.
Not content there, plenty of Inter flags were seen amongst the home support. Even chants were during the game heard from Lazio fans, calling for an Inter penalty.
What occurred next defied belief. Inter managed to throw away two leads before half time and absolutely collapsed in the second to allow their bitter rivals Juve to snatch the title.
Key Talking Point
Lazio came into the game with really nothing to play for. UEFA Cup qualification was the most that the club could attain.
By all accounts, the Biancocelesti were on their holidays as the majority of the players were gearing up for the World Cup – Fernando Couto’s lackadaisical clearance for a corner that led to Inter’s second goal illustrates that fact.
All but one player decided not to play in that first half: Karel Poborsky.
The Czech midfielder decided to take the game to Inter, forgoing his teammates.
It’s reported that at half-time with the score 2-2, Lazio heard that ?Juventus were winning. This meant that Roma wouldn’t win the title, so the team decided to play.
Two second-half goals from ?Atlético’s Diego Simeone and current Lazio manager Simeone Inzaghi sealed ?Inter’s fate.
Lazio Player Ratings
Starting XI: Peruzzi (5); Stam (6), Fernando Couto (5), Nesta (5), Favalli (6); Poborsky (9), Giannichedda (6) Simeone (7), Stankovic (7) Fiore (7); S.Inzaghi (8).
Substitutes: Cesar (6), D.Baggio (7).
?The former ?Manchester United man rolled back the years for potentially his best performance since the 90s in his last ever game in Italy. His first goal was a sign of things to come, with him hellbent on stopping Inter winning the title, thundering a volley into the bottom corner.
For his second, on the stroke of halftime, the Czech maestro read the ?Inter defender Vratislav Gresko’s intentions before sneaking in to intercept a header intended for the Inter keeper to stun the champions-elect. 2-2 at half-time.
His second strike energised the Lazio team and they came out a totally different side in the second half.
It’s reported that a call from Juventus player Pavel Nedved before the game inspired his performance.
Key? Talking Point
Widely considered the best team in Serie A that season, ?Inter came into the game fully believing they were going to win the title.
Throughout the season, they’d relied on the play of Nicola Ventola and Mohamed Kallon, who had performed excellently in tandem while Vieri and Ronaldo both struggled with injuries. Alongside this mix of players and Hector Cuper’s tactics, Inter were playing dynamic football.
However, on this day, Inter had a full roster of their stars available to them but they conspired to forget how to defend with a dreadful second-half display and hand the title to Turin.
Inter Player Ratings
Starting XI: Toldo (5); J.Zanetti (5), Cordoba (5), Materazzi (4), Gresko (3); Conceição (5), Di Biagio (6) C.Zanetti (5); Recoba (6) Ronaldo (5); Vieri (6).
Substitutes: Dalmat (6), Emre (5), Kallon (5).
Unfortunately for Gresko, he will forever be associated with this breakdown. The left-back was at fault for at least two of the Lazio goals and created his own unfortunate legacy.
It was so bad for the Slovak, he was shipped out of club in the summer to Parma and what’s worse, Gresko then had to spend three years at ?Blackburn Rovers.
Things That Aged the Worst
The pace of the game. ?Serie A was known for having a slower tempo, focussing on a tactical battle and defensive solidarity.
Perhaps it was the Roman heat of May but the game is being played as if it’s a friendly. It beggars belief that Inter were playing for the title.
Things That Aged the Best?
?Pretty much everything else. The kits. El Fenomeno. Football Italia on Channel 4. Forza Italia.
Players You Completely Forgot Existed
Diego Simeone lining up in the Lazio’s sky blue catches you off guard but there are plenty of blasts from the pasts to go around. Marco ‘The Matrix’ Matterazzi, most remembered for taking a forehead to the solar plexus.
The mercurial Alvaro Recoba, an incredible talent – occasionally in real life, always on PES 3.
There’s plenty more, the teamsheets are a proverbial walk down memory lane.
What Happened Next?
?This loss created a narrative at ?Inter that they might never win the Scudetto again. Such was the pain felt by Inter fans, it seemed Juventus’ dominance would continue evermore and the gods would continually conspire against the Nerazzurri. It took Calciopoli, the match-fixing scandal in Italy, and Juventus’ relegation to breathe new life into the club.
Ronaldo was seen crying on the bench after having been taken off in the 78th minute and ultimately, the Brazilian striker left the club in the summer to signal the end of an era at San Siro.
It was also the end of an era for Lazio too as financial troubles meant they had to sell their best players, including Alessandro Nesta.
Gone were the days of blockbuster signings and challenging for league titles as Lazio dealt with the poor management of their former owner Sergio Cragnotti.
?Why did Inter come out so flat in the second half? Why didn’t Inter manager Hector Cuper do more to change it?
Infamous dodgy referee Gianluca Paparesta was in charge that day – did he have anything to do with the result? Why did Karel Poborsky leave his best performances for the big stages?
We’ll never know…