Roma vs Inter Throwback: Nine-Goal Thriller with Baggio and Ronaldo

What happens when you put against each other a star-studded Roma side, coached by an ultra-offensive manager in the name of Zdenek Zeman, and one of the most impressive Inter lineups ever seen – where Roberto Baggio had just joined the Fenomeno Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima?

That’s easy: You get one of the craziest games in the history of Serie A, right in the middle of a bizarre, unpredictable season that, at the end of multiple upsets, saw a somewhat average Milan roster emerge as the unlikely winner. That was the 1998/99 season, and this is the story of a Roma vs. Inter match up where the Nerazzurri grabbed all three points on offer at the end of a pyrotechnical 4-5 showdown.

It was match-day 31 and while Milan and Lazio were giving life to a thrilling underdog battle (neither of them had seemed like a potential title contender during the pre-season), Inter and Roma were trying to save something from a season that had been majorly disappointing for both sides.  

Roma were led for the second campaign in a row by the charismatic Zdenek Zeman, whose attacking-minded football philosophy had gained praises all across the Italian peninsula but had never quite worked in any club with European ambitions. Zeman would close his Roman biennium with a 4th and 5th place and that was less than the demanding Roma fans were hoping for.

Their 1998/99 season would at least be remembered as the one when Francesco Totti became the Giallorossi designated captain, receiving the baton from talismanic Brazilian defender Pluto Aldair.   

Inter’s season, if possible, was going even worse. The year before, under Luigi Simoni’s tenure and with the sensational purchase of the Fenomeno Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, the Nerazzurri had come close to grab their first Italian title since 1989 – but their ambitions had crashed into Mark Iuliano.  

During the summer market, they had added Roberto Baggio – who was struggling to play with continuity since a few seasons but was still Roberto Baggio – to an already impressive roster.  

It was legitimate to expect Inter to be a serious contender for the Scudetto again, but their season rather turned into an agony that saw four different coaches alternating themselves at the helm of the struggling Nerazzurri. Luigi Simoni was sacked in November already, to be replaced by Mircea Lucescu, then Luciano Castellini, and finally, for the last few games, Roy Hodgson – whose previous stint at Inter two seasons earlier had ended with a disgraceful resignation.

But even if the Scudetto dreams were long gone for both sides, Inter and Roma were still in contention for a UEFA Cup place and so the match at the Stadio Olimpico of May 3, 1999, was a real one, with both coaches lining up their best possible XI and 65,000 screaming fans ready to watch it.

The show did not disappoint at all as there were emotions from the get to: On 16 minutes, Roberto Baggio picked Ronaldo beyond Zeman’s four-man defense, and the Fenomeno dribbled Austrian goalkeeper Richard Konsel with a soft touch to slot the ball home.

Baggio tried to take the matter into his own hands a few minutes later with a beautiful curl but Konsel cared to remind him why he can be considered one of the best goalies Roma have had in the past few decades (too bad that he was already 35 when he landed in Rome).

Still, the Divin Codino seemed to be pretty comfortable in his provider role on that day and it was him again to serve the winning pass, this time for Ivan Zamorano’s volley, to double Inter’s scoring.

The Nerazzurri gave the Giallorossi a hand to get back on track as Mikael Silvestre pushed Brazilian midfielder Paulo Sergio in the box, prompting referee Pierluigi Collina to point at the penalty spot. Francesco Totti – who else? – made no mistake to make it 1-2.

On 34 minutes, Inter’s South American chain gave another joy to their coach as the eternal Javier Zanetti served Zamorano with a lob pass beyond Roma’s defense and the Chilean beat Konsel again with a superb chip.

Before half time, Roma had two chances to reduce the gap again, first with Vincent Candela and then with Marco Delvecchio but, between Inter’s sticks, Gianluca Pagliuca was living his prime and denied both efforts.

This is just too much for a single picture to hold…

Right after the break, however, Roma had their second as Inter seemed to forget that the match had already restarted. It was Damiano Tommasi to shame the Nerazzurri defense with a long-range lob that found Paulo Sergio all alone in the middle of the box, ready to head the ball home for Roma’s 2-3.  

Two became three one minute later, this time courtesy of Delvecchio’s header from a Paulo Sergio cross. In the space of two minutes, Roma had managed to steer themselves back in contention.

But it was not over: Delvecchio had a golden breakaway chance to complete the comeback, taking advantage of a shell-shocked Inter defense, yet his final shot ended a few inches too wide.

Inter eventually woke up from their lethargy as it came back to their mind that they were playing against a Zeman’s team – who were defending almost along their midfield line. All it took for the visitors to put their head ahead again was a fast break and bit of quality.

The Nerazzurri had loads of it and reading the name of the trio who participated in the counterattack – Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamorano, Ronaldo – is enough to give anybody who’s even only slightly familiar with football a shiver down their spine. Man, what was the Serie A in those days!   

Pagliuca’s showtime continued as he was tested by Brazilian defender Zago with a long-range screamer and went above and beyond to prevent Delvecchio from tapping in from his save.

His miraculous efforts costed him hard, however, as he was forced to leave the pitch injured, giving way to 19-year-old Sebastian Frey – Serie A fans would eventually become very familiar with the French goalkeeper.

Frey’s debut was not the best he could hope for as he conceded his first goal 15 minutes after setting foot on the pitch – though he was not necessarily the one to blame in the occasion. Roma’s fourth goal bore the mark of a known face to those who follow the Serie A today, as current Frosinone coach Eusebio Di Francesco made the best out of a Francesco Totti pass to bring the score at 4-4. Whoa.

There were still 12 minutes left – more than enough for both sides to continue with the fireworks. Roy Hodgson sent in Youri Djorkaeff and soon enough the French midfielder exploded a vicious netbulger that crashed into Konsel’s gloves, not without giving him some concern. Baggio served Ronaldo once again and the Fenomeno was quick to seal his hat-trick but the assistant referee’s offside flag spoiled his party.

On the other side of the pitch, Delvecchio was a split second too late to deflect a whipping cross from the right: He was all alone in front of Pagliuca and the goalie would have had no chance.

In a game that had seen everything, from counterattacks to horrific defensive mistakes, the winner ultimately came from a set piece, and once again from Roberto Baggio’s magical foot. It was the Codino to shoot a free kick from the right and into Roma’s box, where present day Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone’s big head was ready to connect with the ball and send it past Konsel for the fifth time, wrapping up an incredible showdown at the Stadio Olimpico.    


May 3, 1999 – Serie A 1998/99 Round 31

17′ Ronaldo (I), 22′ Zamorano (I), 26′ Totti (R, pen.), 35′ Zamorano (I), 47′ Paulo Sergio (R), 49′ Delvecchio (R), 56′ Ronaldo (I), 78′ Di Francesco (R), 87′ Simeone (I) 

ROMA (4-4-2): Konsel; Quadrini, Zago, Aldair, Candela; Alenichev (33′ Tommasi), Di Biagio (84′ Tomic), Di Francesco, Paulo Sergio (80′ Gautieri); Delvecchio, Totti (Chimenti, Lanzaro, Bartelt, Frau) Coach: Zeman
INTER (4-3-3): Pagliuca (63′ Frey); Bergomi, Simic, Colonnese, Silvestre; J. Zanetti, Simeone, Cauet; R. Baggio, Zamorano (80′ Djorkaeff), Ronaldo (Moriero, Galante, Pirlo, Winter, Ze Elias) Coach: Hodgson

REFEREE: Mr. Collina from Viareggio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Zago (R), Colonnese, J. Zanetti, Cauet (I)

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