Lazio vs Milan Throwback: Shevchenko’s Introduction to Serie A

The Lazio vs Milan game played on October 5, 1999, was one of the most awaited for in the history of Serie A. When a football match is heralded by such a hype, it is not unusual for the show not to live up to the expectations.

But that was not the case on that night, as the two sides pleased their supporters and all the calcio fandom with one of the most spectacular games ever seen in the Italian top-flight. The battle at the Stadio Olimpico ended 4-4 and was embellished by a triplet of Milan new star striker Andriy Shevchenko.

Only a few months earlier, Lazio and Milan had engaged in a thrilling battle for the Italian title. The Scudetto surprisingly ended in Alberto Zaccheroni’s Milan’s hands as the Rossoneri passed the Biancocelesti in the penultimate round and defended a slim one-point lead in the last 90 minutes.

The calendar for the following season put the two against each other early in the campaign as the showdown was scheduled at the Stadio Olimpico on Round 5 of the new campionato. Lazio had their chance for vendetta.

Despite taking place only a few months after the previous Scudetto head-to-head clash, some major changes had taken place in both rosters over the summer. Lazio had lost their massive striker Christian Vieri but were on the receiving end of a major cash injection as the globetrotter striker was paid by Inter a record 90 billion Italian liras.

Milan, on the other hand, had completed the purchase of this 23-year-old Ukrainian striker who had gained international visibility at Dynamo Kyiv under the tenure of the legendary Colonel Valeriy Lobanovskyi.

Despite his unpretentious attitude and elegance on the pitch, which earned him the moniker L’Usignolo di Kiev (“The Nightingale of Kyiv”), the Ukrainian was a killer goal-scorer with a keen for hat-tricks, as shown a couple seasons earlier with a shocking performance at the Camp Nou. Shevchenko scored three goals to Barcelona in a Champions League game, helping Dynamo pull off a sensational 0-4 win in the Catalan temple of football.    

In view of the transfer market events, one would have legitimately put his money on Milan to win the title again and bet on Lazio to quickly lose the train to the Scudetto race. But things seldom go according to plans in football.

And so, as the Rossoneri ended a disappointing third, the Biancocelesti finally saw their title challenge be successful as they snatched the Scudetto out of Juventus’ hands in the last matchday. Lazio had to thank Perugia’s Alessandro Calori goal, which delivered the Bianconeri an unexpected last-gasp loss in a Renato Curi Stadium turned into a quagmire by the pouring rain.     

But all this was still far on that early October Sunday when Lazio and Milan met at the Olimpico. The stage was set for a great match-up despite coach Sven Goran Eriksson’s Lazio missing their midfield dynamo Pavel Nedved and Zaccheroni taking the luxury of leaving his veteran striker Oliver Bierhoff on the bench.

It was the Biancocelesti to draw first blood as Juan Sebastian Veron took advantage of his fellow countryman Roberto Ayala defensive blunder and pounced on the ball to fire it past Christian Abbiati with a clinical half volley.

That came unexpected as Milan had been more aggressive in the opening minutes with shots from Massimo Ambrosini and Federico Giunti. But the early opener galvanized Lazio and Veron went again for a shot from outside the box. This time, Abbiati deflected it into the crossbar and saved his side.

Milan reacted with Demetrio Albertini, who picked Shevchenko with a spectacular long-range pass. The Ukrainian sneaked past the Lazio defensive line but found goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani to deny him.

The Rossoneri didn’t have to wait long for their equalizer. From the left side, Serginho whipped the ball in for George Weah. The Liberian’s tap-in was clumsy but that was enough to wrong-foot Sinisa Mihajlovic, who pushed the ball into the back of his own net.

There was not a single moment of relief as Abbiati was called to action again and had to parry back an Alen Boksic violent conclusion. From the subsequent corner kick, Mihajlovic redeemed himself with a tricky trajectory which Diego Simeone converted into Lazio’s second, besting the Milan goalkeeper at the near post.

Two minutes later, the present-day Porto coach Sergio Conceicao galloped along the right flank and crossed the ball in for Marcelo Salas’ header. The Chilean’s conversion left no chance to Abbiati again, making it 3-1 for a Biancocelesti side that looked on fire.

On a normal day, the match could be considered over. But that was not a normal day. That was the day when the Serie A really discovered who Andriy Shevchenko was. Before the half time break, the Nightingale of Kyiv had already halved his side’s gap.

Shevchenko’s first goal of the night was ignited by a brilliant filtering pass from Andres Guglielminpietro. The Argentine served Sheva, who dribbled past the last defender and then past Marchegiani before slotting the ball into the untended net.

Lazio continued to attack after the restart and Abbiati had to keep his side afloat as he palmed away a dangerous close-range header from El Matador Salas. 

On 56 minutes, though, the Rossoneri rebalanced the game. This time, Shevchenko converted a spot-kick awarded for a Marchegiani foul on Weah.

After some “random” players named Roberto Mancini and Leonardo made their entrance to the pitch for Lazio and Milan respectively – just to give you an idea of the absurd amount of football quality that was on display on that night – Milan fans could get a glimpse of the feeling between Weah and Shevchenko.

It wouldn’t last long as the big Liberian would leave the Rossoneri a couple months later, but the goal that gave Milan an incredible 3-4 lead was one to remember: Weah picked the Ukrainian with a perfectly timed diagonal pass in the box and Sheva dashed past his marker with a soft touch to the ball, before slotting it past Marchegiani with a an equally beautiful movement.

It was not over, though. Abbiati saved from yet another Salas header and held the ball right on the goal line, reminiscing of Dino Zoff’s legendary block against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup. But the young goalie couldn’t do anything when Veron breached into the right channel and served the Chilean in the middle of the box. Totally unmarked, Salas could make no mistake this time, setting the score at 4-4.

Lazio didn’t manage to beat their Rossoneri nemesis, but the best was yet to come for them in that season. Milan, on the other hand, could enjoy their new jewel Shevchenko – one that was going to do great things as a red-and-black.  



October 5, 1999 – Serie A 1999-2000 Round 5

SCORERS: 18’ Veron (L), 35’ Mihajlovic (L, o.g.) 36’ Abbiati (M, o.g.) 38’ Salas (L), 43’ Shevchenko (M), 56’ Shevchenko (M, pen.), 68’ Shevchenko (M), 72’ Salas (L)

LAZIO (4-4-2): Marchegiani; Negro (34’ Pancaro), Nesta, Mihajlovic, Favalli; Sergio Conceicao, Simeone (71’ S. Inzaghi), Almeyda, Veron; Salas, Boksic (61’ Mancini) (Ballotta, Sensini, Gottardi, Stankovic) Coach: Eriksson
MILAN (4-4-2): Abbiati; Costacurta, Ayala, Maldini, Guglielminpietro; Albertini, Ambrosini, Serginho (76’ N’Gotty), Giunti (61’ Leonardo); Shevchenko (86’ Gattuso), Weah (S. Rossi, Sala, Helveg, Bierhoff) Coach: Zaccheroni

REFEREE: Mr. Bazzoli from Merano