On April 1, 2000, the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin hosted an important match, the outcome of which would play a decisive role in determining the identity of the season’s Scudetto winner. With seven games to go, capolista Juventus played host to their nearest pursuers Lazio with the cushion of a six point lead. However, the Bianconeri’s confidence had already been wavering since the previous Saturday, when Juve lost to Milan at the San Siro following a brace by Andriy Shevchenko. Lazio, on the other hand, had won their local derby the following day, coming from behind to beat Roma, to reduce the gap from nine points to six.
The game was played on a Saturday to allow the Biancocelesti one more day of rest, in view of their upcoming Champions League quarter final match versus Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium.
The match was tense, given how much was at stake, and left little room for entertainment. Despite being low down in the Serie A table, Lazio maintained a cautious approach, relying on coach Sven Goran Eriksson’s well-tested 4-5-1 formation. This allowed for solid protection of Marco Ballotta’s goal, without preventing the midfielders from advancing to support lone striker Simone Inzaghi – the current Lazio coach. Juve resorted to a three-man defense, leaving Zinedine Zidane free to create chances for Alessandro Del Piero and Simone’s brother Filippo. Still, the first half offered very few talking points.
After the break, Juve hit the gas and went looking for the goal that would all but deliver them the championship title there and then. Defender Giuseppe Pancaro blocked a left-footed shot from Zidane at close range, then goalkeeper Ballotta dived to deflect a tricky attempt at goal from Edgar Davids.
Then, in the 20th minute, one single episode changed the outcome of the match. Simone Inzaghi dashed to capture a wonderful long-range pass by Juan Sebastian Veron, and Ciro Ferrara could only stop his advance by pulling him to the floor, forcing referee Stefano Farina to brandish a second yellow card his way.
Set piece specialist Sinisa Mihajlovic took charge of the resulting free kick – his left-footed shot hitting the Bianconeri’s wall. The ball then bounced to the feet of Veron, and the Argentinian midfielder crossed it towards compatriot Diego Simeone. El Cholo was in exactly the right spot to take advantage of the gap left by Ferrara’s dismissal. Paolo Montero tried in vain to challenge him, but he was unsuccessful. Simeone’s header was perfect, and he dispatched the ball past an astonished Edwin Van der Sar in the Juve goal.
Despite playing with 10 men, the Zebras tried to grab an equalizer, but even when boss Carlo Ancelotti desperately added an additional striker (Darko Kovacevic for Antonio Conte) their assaults remained confused and fruitless. Lazio managed to defend their lead, and reduce their gap versus the capolista to three points.
Just a few days later, Eriksson’s side would be brutally hammered by Valencia, but the disappointment at their elimination from the Champions League would soon be compensated by an epic victory over the Tricolore in the very last match – the second Italian title in the history of the Roman side.
April 1, 2000 – Serie A 1999-2000 Round 28
SCORER: 66’ Simeone
|JUVENTUS (3-4-1-2): Van der Sar, Ferrara, Montero, Iuliano, Conte (77’ Kovacevic), Tacchinardi (53’ Zambrotta), Davids, Pessotto (76’ Birindelli), Zidane, Del Piero, F. Inzaghi (Rampulla, Tudor, Bachini, Oliseh) Coach: Ancelotti|
|LAZIO (4-5-1): Ballotta, Negro, Fernando Couto, Mihajlovic, Pancaro, Sergio Conceição, (56’ Stankovic), Almeyda, Veron, Simeone, Nedved (77’ Lombardo), S. Inzaghi (85’ Ravanelli) (Concetti, Gottardi, Sensini, Boksic) Coach: Eriksson|
REFEREE: Mr. Farina from Novi Ligure
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Davids, Zidane (J), Almeyda, Veron (L); Red Card: Ferrara (J); Extra Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 3′
Translated by Matteo Carnevale