May 5, 2002, a day that will live in infamy. Ronaldo cried on the Inter bench, Antonio Conte ranted and rejoiced, Marco Materazzi berated the Lazio players, Calcio again had an iconic moment. Inter had led by five points with six games to go that year, yet Juventus would take the Scudetto. Alessandro Del Piero said after “The FifthOfMay is now one word, its historic.” Javier Zanetti simply confessed “even I don’t know what happened that day.”
Hector Cuper was confident that season. Massimo Moratti had spent consistently (albeit not always wisely) since his arrival and the Coach had reason to feel upbeat. Ronaldo and Christian Vieri led the line and with players like Zanetti, Francesco Toldo, Alvaro Recoba and a free scoring Mohamed Kallon, things could have been worse. They had also started the season well, a feat not matched by fierce rivals Juventus, who in turn had just sold Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid. The Bianconeri had bought Gigi Buffon, but he was young, and even with Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved arriving, they were a team in transition and had dropped points in six games between September and November.
It should not be forgotten that Roma were also in the mix this year, with the unpredictable Antonio Cassano helping to swell Fabio Capello’s already ample ranks. They were reigning Champions and Gabriel Batistuta’s form had meant that they had only been defeated twice all campaign by the time May fell upon them. This Giallorossi threat was amplified when, with only a few games to play, they took Lazio to pieces in the Derby Della Capitale to win 5-1, although they would lose to Inter soon after. The Nerazzurri would beat Fiorentina after this, just, while Juventus lost to Parma and then lost to Lazio, falling six points off the pace.
At times it seemed as if nobody wanted to win the Scudetto, as Inter were beaten at San Siro by Atalanta, a draw against a high-flying Chievo also pegged them back, whilst Roma beat Vicenza with a goal that should not have stood. Juventus then, as expected, kicked into gear and won four straight games, meaning that in the final round of fixtures, Inter lead with 69 points, Juventus were on 68 and Roma third on 67 points. All three title contenders had away fixtures in the final round: Inter at Lazio, Juventus in Udine and Roma faced Torino.
The final day offered drama, tension and most of all it promised nerves. Any of the three could take the Scudetto with 45 minutes remaining. Admittedly, Juventus had made short work of the Zebrette with David Trezeguet and Alessandro De Piero netting, whilst Roma were drawing a blank in Turin. Inter had been in the lead twice, but Lazio had pulled it back to 2-2. It was concerning for the Nerazzurri, but surely they had the momentum to finish the job?
Fast forward to the 90th minute. Udinese 0-2 Juventus, the Bianconeri had seen the game out. Torino 0-1, Cassano had done the job for the Giallorossi, and what a beautiful goal it was. Then, as the Juventus fans looked to hear news from Rome, it came. Lazio 4-2 Inter.
The men from Milan had collapsed, Lazio had helped The Old Lady win the Scudetto and the images started to filter through of the devastation the Nerazzurri were suffering. Ronaldo was in tears, Moratti looked like he had been shot and Materazzi was seen shouting at the Aquile players: “I helped you win a title” in reference to his time at Perugia. Antonio Conte was in ecstasy and also claimed revenge for the same game the season before.
Inter had been declining since April and Juventus as Gazzetta Dello Sport wrote “had sprinted at the right time”, but these cold hard facts did not make it easier to understand.
Now we go into another final round of the season, Lazio host Inter at the Stadio Olimpico and there is a great deal at stake. Not a Scudetto, granted, but qualification for the Champions League. It’s different this time, as in 2002 Lazio didn’t have anything to play for but pride. A little like Sassuolo last week at San Siro, when throwing a giant spanner in the works.
No, this is a duel and both sides have everything on the table. At the end of the 90 minutes, either Lazio or Inter will have booked their ticket to the Champions League and thus made the season a success. I can’t wait to see what happens.