Lazio vs Inter Throwback: A Dream Night for Emre Belozoglu

Between the mid-1990s and the beginning of the new century, Inter were an after-sought Serie A destination for foreign footballers. Lured by President Massimo Moratti’s munificent transfer market approach, players came and went from Appiano Gentile. Many of them were swallowed and then hastily expelled by some crazy revolving doors as the Nerazzurri struggled to find the magic formula that would bring consistent results on the pitch.

The most hardcore among the Beneamata fans may remember the otherwise-forgettable names of Gonzalo Sorondo, Vampeta or even Sebastian Rambert – the one that joined Inter together with Javier Zanetti and was supposed to be better than him.

Then you have some different kind of players, those who enjoyed longer stints in black-and-blue despite being sidelined for most of the time, taking advantage of Inter’s peculiar resistance to get rid of those players that they seldom made use of (Alvaro Recoba pretty much made a whole career out of it)

That is the case with Turkish midfielder Emre Belozoglu, who spent four seasons with the Nerazzurri and scored only three goals in the Italian top-flight. He, at least, had his glory night as he scored two of those goals in a crazy 3-3 draw against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico – a match that had a highly-symbolic meaning. Let’s see why.

But first, let’s learn more about our hero of the day. The current coach of Istanbul Basaksehir, Emre Belozoglu joined Inter in the summer of 2001 at 21 years of age along with his fellow countryman Okan Buruk. The two constituted the midfield backbone of a Galatasaray side that only two seasons earlier had stunned Europe by winning the UEFA Cup (First Turkish club to win a European competition). The story goes that their purchase had been expressly requested by the then Nerazzurri manager Hector Cuper.

Italians do love nicknames, especially ambitious ones, and the Turkish maestro was quickly dubbed the “Maradona of the Bosphorus” due to his technical skills as soon as he landed in the Belpaese. No pressure, young man.

But while his countryman Okan was quickly dismissed and ended up joining the of likes Vampeta and co. in the aforementioned list, Emre did hold his own for a few seasons in Italy. He was a starter under Cuper’s tenure but when Roberto Mancini took charge of Inter, he started to be regularly benched by Dejan Stankovic as the Mancio preferred a more physical player than the pocket-sized Turk.

He eventually left, leaving the bitter impression that he had never fully shown his talent and potential. But glimpses of it – oh yes, that he did.

On December 7, 2002, Inter travelled to the Stadio Olimpico to face Lazio. Paying a visit to the Biancocelesti was traditionally a joy for the Inter supporters as the two fan bases have a long-lasting friendship. But this time was different.

This was the first time that the Nerazzurri came back to the Stadio Olimpico after enduring the collective psychodrama of the Cinque Maggio (“5th of May”). The story is well known, and we have covered it extensively here: Inter needed just one point against Lazio in the last matchday of Serie A 2001/02 to secure their first Scudetto in 12 years but shockingly lost 2-4 to a team that had nothing left to play for.

And indeed, the ghost of the Cinque Maggio still seemed to haunt the Stadio Olimpico on that night as Inter picked up exactly where they’d left off. After 37 minutes of play, Lazio had scored three times already (!), all with Argentine forward Claudio Lopez.

As much as credit must be given where’s due, Lopez’s hat-trick exploit was heavily facilitated by the Nerazzurri defense, with poor youngster Giovanni Pasquale playing the part of the sacrificial lamb. Pasquale unluckily deflected the pass that kept Lopez in play when he scored his second and completely blundered in the occasion of the third. He was the perfect image of Inter’s numbness, their clock stuck back to seven months earlier.

Good for Hector Cuper that his folks managed to pull one back right after Lopez’s third goal as Lazio defender Fernando Couto pushed the ball into the back of his own net from a Hernan Crespo header that hit the crossbar. The two sides went for the half time break with Inter trailing 1-3.

Then, a different game started. In the space of nine shimmering minutes, Emre Belozoglu suddenly woke up and delighted the audience of the Olimpico with some truly Maradonesque antics – a lethal blend of class, long-range shooting skills, and versatility. It was a flash, a vision – the same vision that scouts and commentators must have had when they came up with that Maradona and Bosphorus thing.

On 67 minutes, Emre received a pass in the midfield area and started to run. He run and he run, all through Lazio’s defensive half with basically no opposition from the Biancocelesti. After all, one year and a half into his Serie A experience with almost nothing to his name, what could he do?

Well, Lazio learned the hard way what he could do. Noticing that goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi was disconcertingly far from his goal line, Emre beat him with a delicious left-foot chip from outside of the box. Pure Serie A magic. Chip goals were a specialty of Roma’s captain Francesco Totti back in the days, which only added insult to injury for the home side.

With Inter now down 2-3, more than 20 minutes to play, and scoring chances raining from both sides, many must have thought that the gods of football were setting the stage for a cruel re-enactment of the Cinque Maggio as Lazio could score again and replicate that infamous score from a few months earlier.

But Emre’s show was not over. Lazio didn’t seem to grasp the lesson quick enough and, nine minutes after his first exploit, continued to leave space to advance to the Turkish dynamo. Emre didn’t ask twice and punished Peruzzi again from long-range, using power rather than precision this time. Moreover, he did so with his right foot. “I use it only to walk,” he would casually note afterwards when questioned about the power hidden in his right foot that he had surprisingly unleashed.

Emre left Inter in 2005 to continue a career that would see him play until he was 40. He might not have lived up to the expectations of the great Pele, who in 2004 placed him in his very personal list of the top 125 living footballers.

But he did have his share of achievements, like reaching an impressive third place at the 2002 World Cup with his country. Oh, and scoring the goals that started to at least ease the pain of the Cinque Maggio memory for Inter.


December 12, 2002 – Serie A 2002-03 Round 13

SCORERS: 10’  C. Lopez (L, pen.), 31′ C. Lopez (L), 37′ C. Lopez (L), 38′ Fernando Couto (L, o.g.), 67′ Emre (I), 76′ Emre (I)

LAZIO (4-4-2): Peruzzi; Stam, Negro, Fernando Couto, Pancaro (82’ Liverani); Fiore (89’ Oddo), Simeone (66’ Giannichedda), Stankovic, Cesar; Corradi, C. Lopez (Concetti, Colonnese, S. Inzaghi, Chiesa) Coach: Mancini
INTER (4-4-2): Toldo; J. Zanetti, Cordoba, Cannavaro, Pasquale (85’ Gamarra); Okan (31’ Recoba), Almeyda, Emre, Sergio Conceicao; Vieri, Crespo (Fontana, Adani, Beati, Farinos, Kallon) Coach: Cuper

REFEREE: Mr. Rosetti from Turin
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Stankovic, Simeone, Corradi, Liverani (L), Vieri, Cordoba (I)