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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

October 20, 1996: Lazio Cagliari 2-1

Birth of a hero


Lazio manage to win in 10 men with Cudicini, substitute goalkeeper, heroically staying in goal despite serious injury



The season so far


The previous season Lazio had arrived third with an excellent final rush. A lot of players had left the club during the summer transfer window: Aron Winter (Inter), Alen Boksic (Juventus), Marco Di Vaio (loan to Bari), Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea) and Cristiano Bergodi (Padova). Coming in were defender Mark Fish (Orlando Pirates) who had played really well in the African Nations Cup, midfielders Roberto Baronio (Brescia), a rising star, Paul Okon (Club Bruges), Pavel Nedved (Sparta Prague) and forwards Renato Buso (Napoli) and last year’s top scorer, together with Beppe Signori, Igor Protti (Bari). Manager Zdeněk Zeman had been confirmed.


The first game of the season was the first round of the Coppa Italia. The Biancocelesti won at Avellino. In the UEFA Cup, Lazio were paired with Lens in the first round. There was history with the French club. In 1977 Lazio had won the first leg 2-0 at the Olimpico but in the return match after 90 minutes Lens were 2-0 up. In extra time the Biancocelesti collapsed and Lens scored 4 more goals. This time Lazio managed to win away with a goal from José Chamot and then drew 1-1 at home. In the round of 32 the Biancocelesti had to face Tenerife and had won 1-0 at home. The return match would take place on October 29.


In campionato, Lazio did not have a good start. After five games they had won one (Parma), drawn two (Fiorentina and Inter) and lost against Bologna and Udinese. Today’s game was a must win.


The match: Sunday, October 20, 1996, Stadio Olimpico, Rome


A must win game for Lazio, but after four minutes Luca Marchegiani made a terrible mistake. Long ball from Fabian O’Neil for Dario Silva, the Biancoceleste goalkeeper came out of the box but completely miss timed the trajectory and touched the ball with his hands. Red card and Lazio in ten men. Pierluigi Casiraghi was replaced by Carlo Cudicini, his first game in Serie A.


This could have been the beginning of the end for Lazio who instead began playing better than they had since the start of the season and slowly took over the control of the game. Pavel Nedved tried his luck with a big whack from 35 meters but the ball went wide. It did not in the 22nd minute. The Czech got the ball just over the half way line and ran towards the goal. Big whack from 30 meters, Lazio 1 Cagliari 0.


The Laziali looked like they were enjoying themselves and were rampant but this gave Cagliari a bit of room for manoeuvre. In the 32nd minute, on a corner for the Islanders, Ramin Vega anticipated Cudicini and headed the ball in. Diego Fuser kicked it away but it looked as if he was too late. There was no goal line technology yet and the referee gestured to play on, much to the disbelief of most of the players involved.


At this point Cudicini became the hero of the day, saving twice on Pierpaolo Bisoli and once on a Fábian O’Neill free kick.


In the second half Lazio immediately made it two. In the 49th minute Nedved stole a ball and passed to Signori who whizzed towards the Cagliari goal and just inside the box scored with a low clinical right foot shot. Lazio on a wave of enthusiasm then hit the woodwork with Igor Protti and on the rebound Signori hit the crossbar.


At this point the Biancocelesti stopped playing and Cagliari moved forward. In the 77th minute Giacomo Banchelli on an assist from O’Neill reduced the deficit and from then on, the Lazio players literally prepared for the assault. Continuous scrambles in the box and the Biancocelesti defenders clearing the ball as far away from the box as possible. With four minutes to go Cudicini had to come out of goal to stop Bisoli and in doing so seriously injured himself. But the Biancocelesti had already used all the substitutions, Cudicini could hardly walk let alone be in goal. But he did and resisted. In the last two minutes the Lazio defence surrounded him trying their best to limit his activity. A heroic gesture from the young goalkeeper.


Lazio managed to pull it off and win.


Who played for Lazio


Marchegiani, Gottardi, Negro, Nesta, Fish, Favalli, Fuser, Marcolin, Nedved (86’ Baronio), Signori (88’ Franceschini), Casiraghi (4’ Cudicini), Protti

Substitutes: Piovanelli, Bellè, Rambaudi

Manager: Zeman


Who played for Cagliari


Pascolo, Pancaro, Grassadonia, Vega, Villa, Bettarini (46' Banchelli), Sanna (46' Cozza), Lonstrup, O'Neill, Bisoli, Dario Silva (68' Muzzi).

Substitutes: Abate, Tinkler, Scugugia, Bressan.

Manager: Clagluna.

TD: Perez.


Referee: Bolognino


Goals: 22’ Nedved, 49’ Signori, 77’ Banchelli



What happened next


Lazio lost the next two games meaning that after eight games they were 14th, just a couple of points above the relegation zone. But the situation improved and five games later they were only 2 points away from third place. In January Lazio beat Milan 3-0 and everybody thought that they had recovered. But two home defeats in the next two games meant a further debacle. President Sergio Cragnotti sacked Zeman and called Dino Zoff to solve the season. Zoff was President of the club at the time, but he left the presidency and put his tracksuit back on.


Zeman was heartbroken. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Tenerife. Lazio had scored the opening goal, then fell behind twice but managed to come back only to melt away and lose 5-3. The Czech was the great culprit. Signori stated at the end of the game “Scoring three away goals, no team in the world would have been kicked out”. Diego Fuser was even more drastic: “This time it’s not the player’s fault, the blame must be sought elsewhere. As for the tactical attitude, ask the coach. It is useless to bring players who do not follow him in training. Those who do not listen must stay at home”. The Zeman bubble had burst.


After being fired Zeman said: “Without Lazio I’m a destroyed man, I have never done so badly. I’m disappointed but not with myself. I’ve always given everything I had to Lazio. I must have made a few mistakes: the main one was that I wasn’t convincing enough”.


In the 16 games under Zoff Lazio lost just twice, hence the team was not that bad. They managed to reach 4th place and a place in the following year’s UEFA Cup. A miracle.


Marchegiani was the player with most appearances (40) and Signori top goal scorer with 15 goals.


Lazio 1996-97

Season

Played

Won

Drawn

Lost

Goals scored

Serie A

34

15

10

9

54

Coppa Italia

4

2

1

1

4

UEFA Cup

4

2

1

1

6

Total

42

19

12

11

64

Top five appearances

Players

Total

Serie A

Coppa Italia

UEFA Cup

Marchegiani

40

32

4

4

Signori

39

32

4

3

Fuser

38

31

3

4

Nedved

38

32

3

3

Rambaudi

36

28

4

4

Top five goal scorers

Players

Total

Serie A

Coppa Italia

UEFA Cup

Signori

15

15

-

-

Casiraghi

11

8

2

1

Nedved

10

7

1

2

Protti

7

7

-

-

Fuser

6

4

-

2

Let's talk about Carlo Cudicini


Despite having appeared just once for Lazio, and not even the full game, Carlo Cudicini is a Lazio hero.


He was born in Milan on September 6, 1973, son of Fabio Cudicini one of the greatest goalkeepers in Italian football history, and grandson to Guglielmo, defender in the 1920s and 30s.


He started playing football in the Milan youth teams and debuted professionally on March 3 1993 in the Champions League match against Porto. For the next season he was at Como in Serie C1 but appeared in only seven games. Back to Milan for a year, in 1995 he was sent again on loan to Prato (C1) where he was regular player. In 1996 he went on loan to Lazio.


On October 20 1996 in Lazio-Cagliari he was forced to come on in the 4th minute due to Luca Marchegiani having been sent off. He did well and Lazio were winning in 10 men but towards the end of the game in an attempt to stop Paolo Bisoli from scoring he injured his Achilles tendon. The injury was serious, he should have been substituted immediately but Lazio had finished the sub slots. Igor Protti was ready to go in goal, but the Biancocelesti would have been left in 9 men. Cudicini decided to stay on the pitch despite the fact that he could hardly walk. The Lazio defenders crowded around him and the Biancocelesti managed to win. A heroic decision, never forgotten by the fans.


He was out for the rest of the season so for the next one he decided he wanted to play to show his talent, so he signed for Castel di Sangro where he stayed for two years, the first in Serie B and the second in C1.


Gianluca Vialli, manager at Chelsea, signed him as backup goalkeeper in 1999 and in 2000 he became a first choice player. He stayed nine and a half years with 216 appearances, winning two Premierships (2004-05 and 2005-06), two FA Cups (1999-00 and 2006-07), two League Cups (2004-05 and 2006-07) and two Community Shields (2000 and 2005). He played less in the last years and in January 2009 he moved to the other side of London and signed for Tottenham. In three full and two half seasons he made 37 appearances. In 2013 he signed for LA Galaxy and after 25 appearances decided to retire.


He took to coaching and became assistant to Noel King, training the goalkeepers for the Ireland Under-21s. With the arrival of Antonio Conte at Chelsea in 2016 he went back to the Blues and was his assistant. He also continued under Maurizio Sarri. In August 2019 he was appointed technical coach for the players on loan.


He will never be forgotten by Lazio fans.


Lazio Career

Season

Serie A

1996-97

1

Sources


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