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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

August 31, 1997: Lazio Napoli 2-0

Mancio shines on debut


Goals by Mancini and Pancaro break down Napoli's "catenaccio" and give Lazio positive start


Source Wikipedia

The season so far


The previous season had seen Dino Zoff take over from Zdenek Zeman in January and earn a 4th place finish. Giuseppe Signori's 15 goals had helped Lazio conquer a UEFA Cup place and make it a positive season.


This year however there had been big changes. Lazio had a new manager in Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson, who arrived in the summer from Sampdoria and brought Roberto Mancini's talent and experience with him.


There had been other major changes to the squad too. In had come goalkeeper Marco Ballotta (Reggiana), full back Giuseppe Pancaro (Cagliari), midfielders Matías Almeyda (Sevilla) and Vladimir Jugovic (Juventus) plus forwards Alen Boksic (back from Juventus).


The players who left were South-African defender Mark Fish (Bolton), midfielders Roberto Baronio (on loan to Vicenza), and Alessandro Iannuzzi (Lecce) plus forwards Marco Di Vaio (Salernitana) and Igor Protti (Napoli-on loan).


So Lazio had definitely strengthened their squad and were hoping for new exciting times.


Napoli had finished 13t the previous season first under Gigi Simoni and then in the last month Vincenzo Montefusco. The Partenopei had started well and were second at Christmas but then faded and Simoni was sacked towards the end for having already signed for Inter for the following season. They reached the final of Coppa Italia but lost 1-3 on aggregate to Vicenza.


This year the manager was Bortolo Mutti. The main new players were defenders William Prunier (Manchester United) and former Lazio Raffaele Sergio (Udinese), midfielders Fabio Rossitto and forward Claudio Bellucci (Venezia). Future top manager, 30-year-old midfielder Massimiliano Allegri had also arrived from Padova.


Leaving were defenders André Cruz (Milan), Francesco Colonnese (Inter), Mauro Milanese (Parma), midfielders Fabio Pecchia (Juventus), Alain Boghossian (Sampdoria) and forwards Beto (Flamengo), Nicola Caccia (Atalanta )and Caio (Santos).


If Lazio looked to have improved, Napoli certainly did not. A difficult season could await them.


The match: Sunday, August 31, 1997, Stadio Olimpico, Rome


A hot end of August day still managed to attract a solid 55,000 crowd to the Olimpico.


There was a certain buzz in the air for Roberto Mancini's debut, after having delighted Sampdoria fans for fifteen years now it was Lazio fans’ turn. He would not disappoint.


From the word go it was more an exercise of attack against defence, with Napoli defending the fort. In the first ten minutes Lazio almost scored three times, all with one player. A clever Mancini lob was cleared off the line by Roberto Ayala, then he had an acrobatic volley saved and then his diving header shaved the post. Lazio fans were already won over.


In the 14th minute Napoli crossed the halfway line and Bellucci's powerful low drive went just wide of the post. It would be Napoli's one and only chance of the afternoon.


Then it was all Lazio again. Lazio had total control of midfield, especially thanks to a dominant Matías Almeyda who seemed three players in one. Signori and Alen Boksic had chances but Taglialatela was on guard. Towards the end of the half a fortuitous elbow by Boksic forced Prunier off and he was replaced by Sbrizzo. Halftime Lazio 0 Napoli 0.


One way traffic so far, although the really clear chances had decreased as the half went on, but there was still the sensation that a Lazio goal was only a matter of time.


For the second half Eriksson replaced an off form Signori with a more physically threatening forward, Gigi Casiraghi.


The chances continued coming. A Giuseppe Favalli cross was headed under the crossbar by Casiraghi but Taglialatela showed feline reflexes and tipped it over for a corner.


In the 67th minute Lazio had a penalty appeal for a handball on a Diego Fuser cross. From the consequent corner, however, Lazio finally scored. On Fuser's delivery from the flag Mancini anticipated Napoli's hesitant defenders towards the front post and headed past Taglialatela. Lazio 1 Napoli 0 and nothing less than deserved. It was too late in the game to win the yearly 200 bottles of Montepulciano wine for the first goal of the season but was still very welcome.


Lazio having broken through then doubled their lead. In the 76th minute a free kick from just outside the box was hammered in by Pancaro (on his 100th game in Serie A) with a cracking medium height left-footed strike. Lazio 2 Napoli 0.


Napoli at this point did go forward slightly more but Luca Marchegiani could still have sold his gloves as brand new. In fact, it was Lazio who could have scored again. In injury time a foul on Pavel Nedved was punished with a penalty. Casiraghi stepped up but his low strike was saved and held by specialist Taglialatela, who dived to his right and limited the damage. Final score Lazio 2 Napoli 0.


A well deserved win on their debut for Lazio. A promising start to the season with excellent indications from Mancini and more surprisingly Matías Almeyda, who was here, there and everywhere in midfield.


Napoli had a lot of work to do, especially up front where they were practically non-existent.


Who played for Lazio


Substitutes: Ballotta, Negro, Grandoni

Manager: Eriksson


Who played for Napoli


Taglialatela, Ayala, Baldini, Prunier (43' Sbrizzo), Sergio, Crasson, Goretti (73' Scarlato), Rossitto, Longo, Protti, Bellucci (89' M.Esposito)

Substitutes: Di Fusco, Facci, Altomare, Panarelli

Manager: Mutti


Referee: Braschi


Goals: 68' Mancini, 76' Pancaro


What happened next


Lazio had an inconsistent start to the league with good wins but also unexpected defeats. They then won an epic derby 3-1 in ten men but also lost to Empoli, Udinese and Atalanta. In December however, they started flying and went unbeaten until April. They beat Roma again, Inter and Milan and joined the title race. The Biancocelesti arrived to the crunch match with Juventus only two points behind. They lost despite deserving more and then collapsed in the league and finished 7th.


After abandoning the title race they were more successful in the Coppa Italia. The Eagles had eliminated Fidelis Andria (6-2 on aggregate), Napoli (4-3 on aggregate), Roma (6-2 on aggregate, winning both games) and Juventus (3-2 on aggregate) to set up a home and away final against Milan. The Devils won the Milan away leg 1-0 with a last-minute George Weah winner against the run of play. In Rome, Milan went one nil up just after halftime but Lazio roared back with three goals in ten minutes by Guerino Gottardi, Jugovic and Alessandro Nesta to triumph. Lazio finally won silverware again, 24 years after the 1974 Scudetto.


Lazio also had an excellent run in the UEFA Cup reaching the final. They knocked out Vitória Guimarães (6-1), Rotor (3-0), Rapid Vienna (3-0), Auxerre (3-2) and Atletico Madrid (1-0) to earn a trip to Paris to play Inter. Unfortunately by May Lazio had run out of energy and were beaten 0-3.


All in all, a memorable season; a Coppa Italia, a record 4 derby wins and a European final. Definitely something to build on. Top scorers were Pavel Nedved and Boksic with 15 goals (in Serie A Nedved got 11).


Napoli had a disastrous season. They changed manager three times; from Mutti, to Carlo Mazzone, to Giovanni Galeone and finally Vincenzo Montefusco but it did not prevent the Partenopei getting relegated. Napoli finished last after only 2 wins, 8 draws and 24 defeats.


In Coppa Italia they went out in the 3rd round despite a comeback against Lazio (3-4 on aggregate). Their top scorer was Claudio Bellucci with 12 goals (10 in league).


The Scudetto was won by Juventus for their 25th title. The teams joining Napoli in Serie B were Lecce, Atalanta and Brescia.


Lazio 1997-98

Competition

Played

Won

Drawn

Lost

Goals scored

Serie A

34

16

8

10

53

Coppa Italia

10

7

1

2

22

UEFA Cup

11

7

3

1

16

Total

55

30

12

13

91

Top five appearances (complete player statistics)

Player

Total

Serie A

Coppa Italia

UEFA Cup

52

34

8

10

51

32

9

10

51

33

8

10

49

30

9

10

47

28

10

9

Top five goal scorers (complete player statistics)

Player

Total

Serie A

Coppa Italia

UEFA Cup

15

11

2

2

15

10

5

-

Diego Fuser

10

8

1

1

10

2

6

2

Roberto Mancini

9

5

1

3

Let's talk about Giovanni Lopez


Giovanni Lopez is first from left standing. Source Wikipedia

Giovanni Lopez was born in Rome, on May 23, 1967.


He started his football career with Lodigiani's youth sector (Rome' s third club at the time).


His professional debut came in 1985 for Varese in C1. He made 8 league appearances but the "Bosini" were relegated. Over the next three years he played 104 games in C2.


In 1989 he moved south to Fidelis Andria in C1. He stayed two seasons playing 62 games for the "Federiciani".


In 1991 he joined Vicenza in C1. He stayed six seasons. In his second, the "Lane" won promotion to Serie B and in his fourth, under Francesco Guidolin, to Serie A. There followed a 9th and an 8th place in the top tier but above all a historic Coppa Italia triumph, beating Napoli 3-1 on aggregate. Lopez was captain of a team including; Gabriele Ambrosetti, Massimo Beghetto, Domenico Di Carlo, Giampiero Maini, Roberto Murgita, Marcelo Otero, Maurizio Rossi, Luigi Sartor, Fabio Viviani and former Lazio, Alessandro Iannuzzi. Lopez played a total of 191 league games for the "Berici" with 11 goals.


In 1997 he joined Lazio as back up for Alessandro Nesta. He was sad to leave the Biancorossi but Lazio was home as he was a lifelong fan. As a manager he found the newly appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson. Lopez played alongside Nesta, Paolo Negro, José Antonio Chamot and Alessandro Grandoni. He played 23 league games, 5 in Coppa Italia and 6 in the UEFA Cup. Lazio fought for the Scudetto before collapsing in April but reached the UEFA Cup final (0-3 Inter) in Paris and above all won the Coppa Italia (Milan 3-2 on aggregate). So a solid season for Lopez who won his second consecutive domestic cup and would then win a third as Lazio also won the Supercoppa in August (Juventus 2-1).


Despite his good season, with the arrivals of Sinisa Mihajlovic and Fernando Couto, he moved to Napoli in the autumn of 1998 after playing an extra 9 games for the Biancocelesti (4 in A, 2 in Coppa Italia, 2 in Cup Winners Cup plus the Supercoppa).


Napoli were in Serie B and had Renzo Ulivieri as manager (Vincenzo Montefusco for last 3 matches). The Partenopei finished a disappointing 9th and Lopez played 27 league games.


The following year Walter Novellino arrived as manager and the Azzurri were promoted in 4th place. Lopez played 22 league games and 7 in Coppa Italia. His teammates included past and future Laziali Stefano Lombardi, Francelino Matuzalém and Massimo Oddo.


Despite promotion the following year, in 2000, Lopez was back in Serie B with Torino. The Granata came straight back up first under Gigi Simoni (1-8) and then Giancarlo Camolese (9-38), both former Lazio. Lopez however only made 2 league appearances and 5 in the Coppa Italia. Toro's squad included former Lazio Mauro Bonomi and Giorgio Venturin.


He stayed with "Il Toro" another two seasons but, mainly due to injuries, only played 2 Coppa Italia games. Torino came 11th and then in 2002-03 were relegated to Serie B again.


In 2003 he returned to Rome and joined his first club Lodigiani in C2. He played 24 league games and the Biancorossi finished 10th.


He retired at 37 and two years later went into coaching.


In 2006 he took over at Cisco Roma (former Lodigiani) after being assistant for a while. He then spent two years in the youth sector before another year as head coach in 2008-‘09.


In 2010 he was back at Lazio as assistant to Edy Reja for two seasons. For the record Lazio had two solid 5th and 4th places.


In 2013 he spent a season as head coach with Vicenza in Lega Pro (3rd tier) with a 5th place finish but then promoted to Serie B due to other clubs' financial irregularities. He stayed on the next season but was sacked after 11 games.


In 2015, from October, he was at Lucchese in Lega Pro but was replaced in February, while the "Pantere" then finished 13th. He returned to the Rossoneri from Lucca in March 2017 and finished 9th and then lost to Parma in the playoffs. The following season he took Lucchese to 12th place, a point short of the playoff zone.


In 2018 he joined Viterbese Castrense in Serie C (formerly Lega Pro) but only lasted two games. He was then called back in August 2019 but then sacked in November, leaving the team in 6th place.


In 2020 he returned to Lucchese for a third time. He was replaced three games from the end, with the team second bottom.


In December 2021 he was called up by Pistoiese in Serie C. He lasted only three games with the "Olandesina" and was replaced in January.


In January 2023 he was back at Viterbese in Serie C but was unable to avoid the "Tusci" from being relegated to Serie D.


From 1 July 2023 Lopez is the new manager of Albinoleffe (Bergamo) in Serie C. It is fair to say he has not made a major breakthrough as a manager yet.


As a player he was a defender who could play centre-back and full-back. He is 1.81 and 73 kilos and was a solid tackler, good in the air and could play the ball out from the back. He also was a useful freekick and penalty taker, especially at Vicenza where he had his best years.


At Lazio he only stayed a year but it was a positive one. He played for the club he supported and won two trophies. He played a total of 43 games in Rome. It was however the period in which Lazio were growing into a major force in European football so despite him being a good club player there was the need to move up a notch in the level of defenders.


Lazio Career

Season

Appearances

Serie A

Coppa Italia

Cup Winners Cup

UEFA Cup

Super Coppa

1997-98

34

23

5

6

Jun-Oct 1998

8

4

2

1

-

1

Total

42

27

7

1

6

1

Sources


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