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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

Inter throw away scudetto as Lazio have little choice but to take the win

Updated: Apr 30

Game 34, Serie A

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Lazio Inter 4-2

A suicidal Inter hand Lazio victory and UEFA qualification

All was in place for Inter's scudetto. The Nerazzurri were top of the table, playing a demoralized opposition, in front of a 75,000 crowd of which 40,000 were their own fans and the remainder were "highly" sympathetic to them triumphing today. The two sets of fans were even mixed around the ground thanks to their historic friendship. What could go wrong? Well as they say it's a funny old game.

Inter's starting line-up showed their intention to attack as they played with Ronaldo, Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba up front. Lazio were more balanced with a strong midfield and only Simone Inzaghi in attack.

The initial stages were quite bland and confirmed the appearance more of a formality than a competitive game. Inter soon took the lead thanks to a howler by Angelo Peruzzi (former Inter) who dropped the ball from a corner and Vieri tapped it in. So after 11 minutes Lazio 0 Inter 1. The script was being followed to the letter.

However something was happening elsewhere which should at least have been a warning sign to Inter and kept them on their toes. At Udine, Juventus were 2-0 up after 11 minutes (David Trezeguet, Alessandro Del Piero) thus basically eliminating any risk of Lazio's "cousins" Roma stealing the title. Many Lazio fans, including myself, no longer saw any reason to hand Inter the victory on a plate. After all, if Lazio won they could still qualify for the UEFA Cup.

In Rome one player who seemed to agree, or more likely just did not understand the dynamics of the Roman rivalry, was Karel Poborsky. He was one of the few Lazio players who seemed to be taking the game seriously. In fact in the 20th minute he equalised, firing in unmarked from an assist by Stefano Fiore who pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot to the oncoming Czech. Another warning sign for Inter, a very relaxed backline.

Not to worry, Inter immediately took back the lead in the 24th minute. From another corner a distracted Lazio defence was anticipated by Gigi Di Biagio's header to make it 1-2 for the Nerazzurri. Scare over? Not according to Poborsky or Inter's defence for that matter.

In the 45th minute Lazio equalised again. A Dejan Stankovic cross into the area was headed straight up in the air by Ivan Cordoba and then Vratislav Gresko had the next header but instead of getting it away or into corner he attempted to lamely give it back to the keeper, Poborsky still running got between them and hammered it in. 2-2 and more signs of problems in the script, mainly Inter's complacency and lack of concentration. They were struggling against a team where one player was fighting and the others just going through the motions. Lazio 2 Inter 2 and Juve were still winning 2-0 at Udine.

So halftime came with some cause for worry for Inter. The score, their defence, their attitude, the heat, the shifting allegiances of some home supporters which could influence the home players. No cause for panic yet but things were definitely not going to plan.

Things did not change in the second half. In sport if you do not have the right mindset it is often not easy to click it back on again. If you start in the wrong gear it is difficult to change. To complicate an already worrying situation came the news that Brescia had gone one up against Bologna, Lazio's UEFA rivals. So Lazio slightly more interested, any risk of Roma winning the title all but gone and now with a realistic chance of qualifying for Europe ... it was not looking good for Inter who continued however to be their own worst enemy.

At the beginning of the half Stankovic went close with a curling shot and for Inter Di Biagio had a low central shot saved by Peruzzi.

In the 56th minute nightmare on Inter street started to become reality. Lazio scored again, this time reluctantly, with a former Inter Diego Simeone header from a Fiore cross. "El Cholo" did not even celebrate but looked around with a face saying "what have I done?" Lazio 3 Inter 2.

Inter were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Lazio were not doing anything special and not even pushing themselves. The Biancocelesti were almost forced to go forward by Inter's apathy. They had more chances with Poborsky saved by Francesco Toldo and Fiore just wide. Inter replaced Sergio Conceição with Stephane Dalmat on the hour mark but nothing changed, Inter were gone. They did come close once but even that was Beppe Favalli anticipating Vieri and then Alessandro Nesta clearing near the goal line.

In the 73rd minute came the final nail in the coffin. Cesar, who had replaced Stankovic, went down the left hand side of the area and put in a perfect cross giving Inzaghi a simple close range header. Lazio 4 Inter 2. Nightmare complete.

Inter were so far gone that Lazio hit a post with a Cesar header but then slowed down their already walking pace so as not to humiliate the visitors. The last 15 minutes were agony for Inter who slowly metabolized the mess they had made of things. Ronaldo went off in the 78th minute to cry his eyes out on the bench. That image of the "Fenomeno" best portrays the afternoon's events.

Inter blew it and Lazio only took advantage. The party atmosphere and feeling everything would go in their favour played a cruel trick on the almost champions. Lazio did the minimum necessary and won with merit.

Who played for Lazio

Substitutes: Marchegiani, Negro, Pancaro, Colonnese, Evacuo

Manager: Zaccheroni

Who played for Inter

Toldo, J.Zanetti, Cordoba, Materazzi, Gresko, Conceicao (60' Dalmat), Di Biagio, C. Zanetti (73' Emre), Recoba, Ronaldo (78' Kallon), Vieri

Substitutes: Fontana, Sorondo, Serena, Guglielminpietro

Manager: Cuper

Referee: Paparesta

Goals: 12' Vieri, 20' Poborsky, 24' Di Biagio, 45' Poborsky, 56' Simeone, 73' S. Inzaghi



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