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  • Writer's pictureLazio Stories

1999-00 Overview: Almost perfect

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

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In the previous season Lazio had gone agonisingly close to winning the scudetto. With eight games to the end of the season they were leading with five points over Fiorentina and seven over Milan. But a single point in the next three games reduced the cushion over the Rossoneri to just one. Lazio then won three consecutive games but so did Milan. In the penultimate match in Florence, the Biancocelesti were held to a draw and denied a clear penalty by a distracted referee. Milan won, overtook them, and maintained the lead in the last game.

The 1999-00 season opened with the victory against the mighty Manchester United in Monte Carlo for the UEFA Super Cup with a Marcelo Salas goal. Another European triumph after having won the final Cup Winners Cup the previous year in Birmingham against Real Mallorca.

The 1999-00 Champions League saw Lazio participate for the very first time. In the 1974-75 season Lazio should have played the European Cup but had been disqualified following the brawl with Ipswich Town players in the UEFA Cup earlier the previous season.

Lazio were grouped with Bayer Leverkusen, Dynamo Kyiv and Maribor. After a draw in Germany they beat the Ukranians, despite being 1-0 down due to an absurd penalty. The two wins against the Slovenians were enough to win the group. In the last two games Lazio drew against Bayer and beat Dynamo away.

The second part of the Champions League was another group phase, this time against Chelsea, Olympique Marseille and Feyenoord.

After beating the French twice, qualification for the quarterfinal was put in peril by only getting one point against the Dutch. In the final game against Chelsea, after having drawn at home, Lazio had to win at Stamford Bridge to clinch the qualification (the top two teams went through) and first place as a bonus,so they could avoid having to play the quarter final against Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern. They managed to do so coming from behind in a spectacular game.

In the quarterfinals Lazio played against Valencia. Everybody thought that it would be an easy match, but Lazio collapsed in Spain. Without Luca Marchegiani and Alessandro Nesta, Lazio went 2-0 down after 4 minutes, re-opened the game thanks to a Simone Inzaghi goal half way through the first half, but Valencia netted another two goals and with ten minutes to the end were leading 4-1. Marcelo Salas scored in the dying minutes to give Lazio a chance of qualification but another defensive blunder with just a few seconds to go, gave Valencia a three goal lead. Fans were hopeful Lazio could recover at the Olimpico, but the Biancocelesti only scored one goal with Juan Sebastian Veron and went out of the Champions League. A real pity.

Lazio, like many of the big teams, started the Coppa Italia in the fourth round games and had to play against Reggiana, who had won their group in August. The Biancocelesti, with a few Primavera players in the starting eleven, plus more on the bench, had drawn the first leg away 1-1 (Alen Boksic the scorer for Lazio) and won the return match 4-1 at home thanks to a Sinisa Mihajlovic free kick double and goals by Inzaghi and Boksic.

The quarter finals were much more difficult as Lazio had to face Juventus. At the end of the first half in Turin the Biancoclesti were losing 3-0 and were virtually out of the competition. But in the second half first a penalty scored by Fabrizio Ravanelli and then a goal by Roberto Mancini with ten minutes to go re-opened the contest. In the return match at the Olimpico Lazio scored in the second half with Boksic. Alessandro Del Piero equalised but Diego Simeone put Lazio ahead in the 81st minute and the Biancocelesti were able to hold onto the precious victory.

Whereas on the one side there were two big clashes in the quarter finals (Lazio vs Juve and the Milanese derby), the other two games should have been more one-sided: Cagliari-Roma and Fiorentina-Venezia. But the islanders eliminated the Giallorossi and an away goal by Venezia gave them a historic semi-final against Lazio.

In the first leg, Lazio destroyed Venezia 5-0 with doubles from Mancini and Mihajlovic (with two penalties) plus a Ravanelli goal. Silver Fox had also missed a penalty. The return was just a formality and Lazio drew 2-2 with an Inzaghi double.

Inter brushed off Cagliari and so met Lazio in the final. The first leg was in Rome on April 12. Inter scored immediately with Clarence Seedorf but Lazio managed to equalise with Pavel Nedved at the end of the first half. In the beginning of the second, Simeone put Lazio ahead so Marcelo Lippi threw Ronaldo on, his first game in five months. Five minutes later the Brazilian broke his patellar tendon. The scene was dramatic and very sad. The game basically ended there.

In the campionato the Biancocelesti started well and by the sixth game they took the solitary lead. Juventus caught up in the 10th game after Lazio lost the derby. A trio of teams (Lazio, Roma and Juventus) then led the Serie A for a few matches until Lazio pulled away in the 14th. It did not last long. A loss on a frozen Venice evening on January 5 gave Juventus the lead again. Roma had fallen behind. Lazio regained the top of the table after beating Bologna in the Centenary game, but two goalless draws in the next two games gave Juve a three-point lead. By the 26th game the deficit increased to nine points and it looked as if it was all over for the scudetto. But on March 25 Lazio won the derby and Juve lost in Milan. The Biancocelesti were at -6 but the next match was in Turin against Juventus. Thanks to a goal from Diego Simeone, the Juventus lead was reduced to three points. However Florence looked as if it would be fatal again as Lazio drew 3-3 and Juventus won in Milan against Inter.

There were four games to go. Everybody thought it was all over but manager Sven Goran Eriksson tried to get the team to believe in the impossible. In the 32nd game of the season Lazio beat Venezia and Juventus lost at Verona. Two games to go, two points difference. Lazio beat Bologna away and Juventus were winning 1-0 against Parma. Towards the end of the match there was a corner for Parma. Marcio Amoroso crossed and Fabio Cannavaro equalised but the referee inexplicably disallowed it.

This was the talking point in Italy for the entire week. Juve had already won a controversial scudetto a couple of years back when a clear penalty on Ronaldo was not given to Inter in Turin. So there was massive media pressure on the last two games of the season: Lazio-Reggina and Perugia-Juventus.

Perugia President Luciano Gaucci, ashamed of the lack of fighting spirit his team had shown against Milan in the last game of the previous season, stated that it would not be a walkover for Juventus. Lazio fans hoped for a draw and then to go to a playoff. And this is what was happening at the end of the first half. Lazio were winning 2-0 and it was still goalless in Perugia. But a massive storm had blown up over the Umbrian capital and the pitch was under water. Referee Pierluigi Collina tried a number of times to see if the ball would bounce on the waterlogged pitch, but no. There was a problem. If the game were abandoned they would have to start from scratch the next day. With what had happened in the previous match when Cannavaro’s goal was disallowed for no reason at all, the Italian referee felt that the repetition of the game would have been unfair. So he insisted. When they were about to give up, the rain stopped. The pitch was not in ideal condition, but playable. The second half could recommence, an hour later than it should have. In the 50th minute Alessandro Calori scored for Perugia. Juve did not manage to equalise and Lazio won their second scudetto.

Still smelling of champagne and without any training whatsoever since the Sunday match, Lazio faced Inter for the second leg of the Coppa Italia final. There were chances for both sides, particularly for Inter in the dying seconds of the match when Alvaro Recoba hit the woodwork, but the game was goalless and the Biancocelesti won the double.

A marvellous season, with only one flaw: Valencia.

The Dream Team

Just like the fantastic squad that won the scudetto in 1974, the Lazio team was built gradually over time. When Eriksson became head coach he asked Cragnotti for three players: Roberto Mancini, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Juan Sebastian Veron. They arrived one a year and then Lazio won the scudetto. Coincidence?

When Eriksson arrived at Lazio in 1997 he already had a number of players who would be fundamental for the scudetto three years later: Luca Marchegiani, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Negro, Beppe Favalli and Pavel Nedved. To these he added Roberto Mancini, Alen Boksic, Giuseppe Pancaro, Matias Almeyda and Marco Ballotta who would be part of the squad in 2000 plus Vladimir Jugovic and Giovanni Lopez in the first year.

Lazio won the Coppa Italia, reached the final of the UEFA Cup, battled with Juventus and Inter for the scudetto before crumbling seven games from the finishing line. What did this mean? Greater depth in the squad was needed. Also needed were players with a winning mentality and better quality. As a consequence, goodbye Pierluigi Casiraghi and Diego Fuser. Beppe Signori, who was not happy with the new management, had left in the winter. Cragnotti, always willing to sell and make a profit, gave Jugovic to Atletico Madrid. Roberto Rambaudi, Jose Chamot and Lopez also left.

As we said, more players and better quality: Marcelo Salas, Christian Vieri, Sergio Conceicao, Fernando Couto, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Dejan Stankovic were added. We could include Ivan de la Pena but he was one of Cragnotti’s mistakes. He never settled in. In the winter transfer window Giorgio Venturin joined Jugovic in Madrid and Attilio Lombardo arrived.

So now Lazio had a good battalion of players in defence and in attack but there were still a few problems at midfield. At a certain point during the season Mancini was moved to playmaker so it was obvious that a piece of the puzzle was still missing.

In the 1999 summer transfer window in came Veron, Diego Simeone and Nestor Sensini, more quality and experience. These were paid for thanks to the sale of Vieri. Also added were Simone Inzaghi and later Fabrizio Ravanelli.

The squad was made. Experience, great players, stars. Eriksson did not even have to do much, the players were that good, they could figure it all out themselves. And this is exactly what happened.

Most appearances all season: Pavel Nedved, Diego Simeone, Juan Sebastian Veron, 47

Most appearances Serie A: Veron, 31

Top goal scorer overall: Simone Inzaghi, 19

Top goal scorer Serie A: Marcelo Salas, 12

Most assists overall: Veron, 10

More assists Serie A: Veron, 10

Most substituted player overall: Inzaghi, 17

Most substituted player Serie A: Sergio Conceicao, 11

Most sub ins overall: Simeone, 19

Most sub ins Serie A: Simeone, 13

Most booked player overall: Matias Almeyda, 13

Most booked player Serie A: Almeyda, 8


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