Throwback Thursday: Inter’s Infamous Cinque Maggio

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On Sunday, May 5th, 2002, the last campionato round was about to be played. Just like the year before, three teams were still battling for the Scudetto with only 90 minutes to go. Inter were leading the ranks with 69 points, but Juventus and Roma were just one and two points behind. As if that wasn’t enough, the match program for the last day featured quite a few interesting pairings.

Inter were due to play Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico: The Biancocelesti needed three points to catch the last spot for the UEFA Cup but didn’t want to help city rivals Roma at the same time. The Giallorossi had to visit the Stadio Delle Alpi to face a Turin side with nothing more to ask to their season. Juventus, on the other hand, played Udinese at the Stadio Friuli, with the Friulani also already safe.

There is a long-lasting friendship between Lazio and Inter supporters which made the atmosphere at the Olimpico even more of a magic one: Except for the North Stands, traditionally occupied by Lazio hardcore fans, the whole stadium was painted in black and blue. It was just like Inter were playing at home, and all hints suggested an easy win for the Nerazzurri.
No Inter fan could have ever imagined what was going to happen in that infamous afternoon of May 5, 2002…Ronaldo’s last game with the Nerazzurri ended in the worst possible way

Lazio’s fear of favoring Roma in the Scudetto run, on the other hand, started to fade away as Juventus took the lead in Udine after just 2 minutes and completely disappeared when Alessandro Del Piero scored the second for the Bianconeri in the 11th minute. However, Inter also took the lead out of the blue: On a corner kick by Alvaro Recoba, goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi failed to stop the ball and left Christian Vieri free to push it in the untended goal.

The whole Olimpico, including the Biancocelesti supporters, burst into joy – as Lazio fans would rather see the title go to Inter than to the hatred Roma or Juventus. The end seemed to be written, but in the 20th minute, midfielder Karel Poborsky caught the ball in Inter’s box and beat Francesco Toldo to equalize for the home side.

Four minutes later, the Nerazzurri put their heads ahead again and once again from a corner kick by Recoba. El Chino’s treacherous cross from the right side was converted by Luigi Di Biagio darting to the near post – a trademark move of his. Inter then tried to catch their breath and control the game until half time, but right in the 45th minute something totally unexpected happened: In an attempt to back pass the ball to Toldo, Slovakian defender Vratislav Gresko came up with a clumsy, slow header which Poborsky easily read and turned into Lazio’s 2-2.

Poborsky polemically run to celebrate against his own supporters, who seemed anything but happy about his daily performance. At half time, the trending joke among Italian calcio followers was that Lazio’s coach Alberto Zaccheroni was probably spending his break time in the locker room explaining Poborsky in which goal he was really supposed to score on that day…
Karel Poborsky celebrates after scoring his second goal to Inter. He was probably the only one in the whole stadium to do so. On the background, you can see the unfortunate Vratislav Gresko – whose mistake still haunts the Nerazzurri’s dreams as of today…

Lazio’s second goal literally shocked Inter. When they came back to the pitch, the Nerazzurri were still dazed and confused. First, they risked ending with one man less when a last-man foul by Ivan Cordoba on Simone Inzaghi was pardoned by referee Gianluca Paparesta. Then, they fell behind again when their former player Diego Simeone – who refrained from celebrating – converted with a header a free kick by Stefano Fiore, with the whole Inter defense standing motionless. The Nerazzurri would still have plenty of time for a comeback, but their legs were shaking by now. Their clearest chance actually came from a quasi-own goal by Giuseppe Favalli as he deflected a shot by Christian Vieri. Alessandro Nesta managed to clear the ball right on the goal line.

Then, in the 73rd minute, the Biancocelesti made an end of it: César, who has just substituted Dejan Stankovic, was left free to run on the left flank and deliver a cross in the middle of the box. Inter’s defense was once again caught by surprise and Simone Inzaghi, all alone on the far post, could not but push the ball in with a header to set the score at 4-2.

Lazio’s shocking win literally delivered the Scudetto to Juventus and marked one of the saddest episodes in the history of the Milanese side. A day that became infamously known as Inter’s Cinque Maggio (“The 5th of May”) and whose most striking image is the Fenomeno Ronaldo Luis Nazario da Lima crying like a baby on the bench, in what would also turn out to be his last match played with the Nerazzurri.


May 5, 2002 – Serie A 2001-02 Round 34

SCORERS: 12’ Vieri (I), 20’ Poborsky (L), 24’ Di Biagio (I), 45’ Poborsky (L), 56’ Simeone (L), 73’ S. Inzaghi (L)

LAZIO (4-4-1-1): Peruzzi, Stam, Fernando Couto, Nesta, Favalli, Poborsky, Giannichedda, Simeone (78’ D. Baggio), Stankovic (61’ Cesar), Fiore, S. Inzaghi (Marchegiani, Negro, Pancaro, Colonnese, Evacuo) Coach: Zaccheroni
INTER (4-4-2): Toldo, J. Zanetti, Cordoba, Materazzi, Gresko, Conceição (60’ Dalmat), Di Biagio, C. Zanetti (73’ Emre), Recoba, Ronaldo (78’ Kallon), Vieri (Fontana, Sorondo, Serena, Guglielminpietro) Coach: Cuper

REFEREE: Mr. Paparesta from Bari
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Stankovic (L), Materazzi (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 4′

Translated by Matteo Carnevale