Dramatic, spectacular and earned against all the odds, Lazio’s last Serie A title - won 17 years ago on this day - was born under a lucky star.
Words: Edoardo Dalmonte
Lazio may not win many Scudetti (three), but when they do, they’re quite something.
Just as Tommaso Maestrelli had turned a divided squad of gun-toting eccentrics into surprise Scudetto winners in 1974, so Sven-Goran Eriksson finally took big spender Sergio Cragnotti to the Promised Land in 2000, but it wasn't easy.
Needing to overcome a two-point deficit on the final day, the Aquile were handed the Scudetto by Juventus, who shockingly lost 1-0 to Perugia. It was then up to the Grifoni's Coach (and Lupi fanatic) Carlo Mazzone to provide the cherry on the cake, quipping that “it took a Romanista to help Lazio win the title!”
And yet, only 24 hours before, the Capital had been in turmoil, the local Irriducibili Ultras reacting to a controversial call in the Old Lady’s favour by threatening to disrupt the final stage of the Giro d’Italia.
They were not to know that the referee, Massimo De Santis, would later be involved in the Calciopoli scandal, or that Juve would allow Alessandro Calori to smash in the winner the next day in a rain-delayed, tumultuous loss at the Renato Curi - one capped off by another hardcore fan (a Lazio fan this time) Marco Materazzi protecting the ball near the corner flag.
To be honest, the Aquile had done well to even compete in the first place: nine points behind in March after losing in Verona, the Eagles still found themselves five adrift in April, and out of Europe to boot. Despite beating both Roma and Juventus, a 5-3 aggregate drubbing at the hands of Valencia looked to have left the Azzurri in the running for just the Coppa Italia - a poor reward for a team whose bench alone (Giuseppe Favalli, Nestor Sensini, Alen Boksic, Dejan Stankovic, Fernando Couto...) brings tears to the eyes now, but created endless selection headaches for Coach Eriksson back then.
Yet the Swede was able to craft something quite special: a side that played champagne football, and which would go on to win the Coppa too, having begun the season by beating Manchester United to the European Super Cup.
Juan Sebastian Veron’s mouth-watering distribution was only matched by Diego Simeone’s grit, Pavel Nedved’s runs and Marcelo Salas’ finishing touch. While Veron and Sinisa Mihajlovic would compete at who took better free kicks, Matias Almeyda helped Lazio win an early six-pointer against Parma with a scorcher from 35 yards out.
As talented as it was, Lazio’s defence (which also included Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Negro and Giuseppe Pancaro) could fall to the occasional meltdown, allowing Andriy Shevchenko to mount a stunning comeback in a 4-4 Olimpico draw, or falling apart as Roma triumphed 4-1 in the first Derby of the season.
Gradually working out his best XI after a strong start, Eriksson’s goal machine could rely on a veteran dressing room, with Roberto Mancini, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Attilio Lombardo keeping the troops believing even when the going got tough.
Sure enough, three steps from the finish line, Juventus stumbled, their luck seemingly running out as they also fell to Cesare Prandelli’s fearless Verona.
Having beaten Reggina 3-0 on the final day, Lazio’s fans were left to wait for a whole hour as a freak storm in Perugia delayed the start of Juventus’ second half. Counting down the seconds, Roma’s blue half exploded as radio commentator Riccardo Cucchi announced the final score in Perugia, the Olimpico turning into an open-air carnival, as fans had been pouring in since the final whistle to wait as one.