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  • Writer's pictureLazio Stories

1997-98: An amazing season

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

From the Scudetto of 1974 there had been Tommaso Maestrelli's illness and death, Luciano Re Cecconi's tragic end, the 1980 betting scandal and subsequent relegation punishment, the Giorgio Chinaglia President era of shattered dreams, six years in total of Serie B playing teams like Campobasso, Barletta, Rimini, the minus 9 point deduction and playoff to avoid the third tier, oblivion or worse, city rivals winning things and playing a European Cup Final (fortunately lost). Then in the 90's things had got gradually better for the long suffering Lazio fans and now finally it was time to celebrate. Lazio had won!! By beating Milan 3-2 on aggregate, the Biancocelesti won their second Coppa Italia.

Source SS Lazio Museum


Not only. For the first time since 1973-74 Lazio had even fought for the scudetto. They went very close but the lack of depth in the squad and the enormous amount of games played plus the psychological lack of motivation once the National cup had been won, all took their toll and the Biancocelesti collapsed in the end.


Lazio however also had a splendid UEFA Cup campaign which only ended in the final. Inter took advantage of the Biancocleste’s fatigue and won the cup, but it was a memorable competition for Lazio.


Serie A


Lazio had a new manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and new players in an attempt to change the mentality of the squad into a more winning one. Roberto Mancini was the one player who could give that necessary killer instinct mentality.


Lazio won their first game of the season against Napoli but by the sixth match they were already 8 points behind leaders Inter. They were not playing well. It looked as if there was a problem in the team between the Zdenek Zeman boys and the new era that had just begun. Eriksson at this point started to put Beppe Signori on the bench and Lazio beat Roma 3-1 playing in ten men for most of the game, but they went two steps back when they lost at home to Udinese and away to Juventus. Eleven games had gone by, Lazio were ninth, 12 points behind Inter.


This was when things changed. In the next six games the Biancocelesti won 5 and drew at Parma reaching fourth place, seven points behind leaders Juventus, at the end of the first part of the season. The team was playing beautifully and were fantastic to watch.


After 21 games Lazio had gained a position but were still seven points behind the Bianconeri. In the 22nd game it was Lazio-Inter. The Biancocelesti destroyed the Nerazzurri 3-0 and, thanks to Juve losing in Florence, Lazio took second place and reduced the gap to four points. By the 25th game the deficit was reduced to just two points and the fans, already over the moon for having beaten Roma four times out of four, started to whisper the word “scudetto”. That word had not been mentioned for the past 24 years.


Lazio had an enormous opportunity against Piacenza to go joint top but could not manage to score. The game ended 0-0 and the Biancocelesti even lost second place. But there were three teams in two points at the top and this was the situation going into the 28th game with the big match Lazio-Juventus. Here was the chance to go to the top of the table. The Biancocelesti did everything they could to win but Angelo Peruzzi was in a state of grace, then a Pippo Inzaghi goal and a blatant penalty denied to Lazio, which could have allowed the Biancocelesti at least to equalise, shattered the dream. In the next six games Lazio collapsed and could only muster one point. In the end they arrived seventh.


UEFA Cup


The UEFA Cup campaign had begun against Portuguese Vittoria Guimaraes scoring four goals in the first leg away with Gigi Casiraghi, Diego Fuser, Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Nesta’s first professional goal. The irrelevant return match ended 2-1 with goals from Signori and Nedved.


The second round was against Rotor Volgograd. In Russia the Biancocelesti were unable to go beyond a goalless draw but in the return match after two goals in the first half an hour (Casiraghi and Mancini) it was all downhill. Signori made it 3-0 in the final stages.


In the round of 16 Lazio had to face Rapid Vienna. The 2-0 in the away first leg thanks to Casiraghi and Mancini meant that yet again the return match would be comfortable and that was solved by Giorgio Venturin in the dying minutes.


The first leg of the quarter final against Auxerre was tough. Lazio managed to score in the second half with Casiraghi but then Vladimir Jugovic got sent off so that basically ended the game. However in the return match the Biancoclesti went 2-0 up in the first 13 minutes thanks to a Mancini penalty and Guerino Gottardi, meaning that the French needed to score four goals to go through. They only managed two.


The semi-final was against Christian Vieri’s Atletico Madrid. A win away thanks to Jugovic was enough to get to the final. The return match was goalless.


The final was played in Paris against Inter who scored immediately. Lazio did not have the energy to fight back and in the end the Nerazzurri won 3-0. The Lazio fans never stopped chanting from the beginning to the end and even after the Cup was given to Captain Beppe Bergomi the Laziali drowned Inter fans’ victorious singing.


Coppa Italia


It was not an easy ride. Lazio entered the competition in the second round and met Fidelis Andria who played in Serie B that season. After winning away 3-0 (thanks to an own goal and two Signori goals), the second leg was almost a friendly with the Biancocelesti winning 3-2 (another Signori double plus a goal from Alen Boksic).


In the third round Lazio faced struggling Napoli. The first leg, at home, saw Lazio seemingly destroy any hopes Napoli had of playing the decisive return match at home. 4-0 to Lazio thanks to two braces, one from Boksic and yet another from Signori. The return match therefore should have been a mere formality but Napoli fought to the death and won 3-0 putting Lazio’s qualification at great risk.

This meant that the quarterfinal was going to be a double derby, since Roma had eliminated first Verona, then Udinese. The first leg was embarrassing. So clear was Lazio’s superiority that Roma really did not stand a chance. The final result, 4-1 with goals from Boksic, a Jugovic penalty, Mancini and Fuser, meant that Roma had to win the return match 3-0, at least. Strangely enough many Roma supporters were still feeling optimistic. But Lazio won this game too thanks to a Jugovic penalty and a fantastic goal from Gottardi in the dying seconds.


In the Coppa Italia semi-finals in February Lazio faced Juventus who were clear favourites. But the Biancocelesti had been playing very well and there was optimism. They won the first leg in Turin with yet another goal by Boksic. Juventus were stunned by the authority with which Lazio had played and learnt their lesson in time for the return match at the Olimpico in March. The Bianconeri went ahead in the first half with Daniel Fonseca, but Lazio were on another footballing level at that moment and a double from Pavel Nedved sent Lazio into the final. Beppe Favalli’s own goal at the end of the match was only useful for statistics.

The first leg of the final was played in April, three days after Lazio’s defeat against Juventus in Serie A. Lazio played very well and would have deserved to win, but the Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi saved everything that night. In the last minute of the game, Paolo Negro and Nesta made a mistake and George Weah scored.

The one goal deficit was possible to overturn in the return match at the Stadio Olimpico but after a goalless first half, Demetrio Albertini scored for Milan in the 46th minute. Lazio now needed to score 3 goals to win the Cup. Eriksson then made a decisive substitution that to many seemed weird. Out went Alessandro Grandoni and in came Gottardi. Nobody could ever have imagined that Guerino would change the match but he did. Little Guerino became Garrincha (or Cristiano Ronaldo for the younger generations), scored the first goal in the 55th minute and won a penalty three minutes later that Jugovic, with his usual calm, put in the back of the net. Lazio needed just one more goal and had half an hour to get it, but why wait? Milan disappeared from the pitch and Lazio were unstoppable. Casiraghi hit the woodwork before Nesta made it 3-1. Lazio triumphed. Almost all Lazio fans cried tears of joy. Finally, a trophy after so many years of pain.


What is to be learnt from this season?


Lazio have potential but still have work to do to become a team that can win the scudetto. There is a need for more depth in the squad that can give the first choice players more time to recover. Thirty-four Serie A games, ten in Coppa Italia and eleven in the UEFA Cup are too many. If the Biancocelesti want to be competitive in all competitions at all times, more players are needed.


This will no doubt be a season to remember, and there is great optimism for the future.


Most appearances all season: Roberto Mancini, 52

Most appearances Serie A: Mancini, 34

Top goal scorer overall: Pavel Nedved and Alen Boksic, 15

Top goal scorer Serie A: Nedved, 11

More assists overall: Mancini, 17

More assists Serie A: Mancini, 11

Most substituted player overall: Mancini, 26

Most substituted player Serie A: Mancini, 19

Most sub ins overall: Dario Marcolin, 19

Most sub ins Serie A: Roberto Rambaudi, 14

Most booked player overall: Nedved, 15

Most booked player Serie A: Nedved 11

Player with more red cards overall: Vladimir Jugovic and Beppe Favalli, 2

Player with more red cards Serie A: Favalli, 2


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