TThere has been a lot of glamor and drama in the 124-year history of A seriesbut no day produced as much as May 5, 2002. The day began with three teams vying for the title and, at the other end of the table, four teams trying to maintain their status in what was arguably the best league in the world. world. .
When the sun rose that morning, Inter, who were managed by Héctor Cúper and had Ronaldo, Christian Vieri and Clarence Seedorf in their squad, led the table with 69 points. Club owner Massimo Moratti had broken the world transfer record twice since he took over in 1995, but his massive investment had yet to give the club a league title. Inter had a galaxy of stars and had been leading the table since the end of March. His task on the last day was simple: beat Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico and the Scudetto would be his. But there was still a genuine three-way title race at stake.
Juventus, which had sold Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid the previous summer but still had the formidable partnership of David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del Piero, was second on 68 points. They would travel to Udinese on the last day of the campaign. And Fabio Capello’s defending champions Roma, who had only lost two league games all season, were third in the table on 67 points. On the last day they went to the Stadio delle Alpi to face Torino.
The big names weren’t just reserved for the title race. Brescia He started the day two points behind safety despite having Roberto Baggio, Pep Guardiola and Luca Toni in his squad. Just above them with 39 points was Piacenza, which has produced one of the stories of the season. Their 35-year-old striker Dario Hübner was just one goal behind Trezeguet in the race for the golden boot before the final day.
Juventus, looking like they meant business in their all-black jerseys, took the first step in the title race. They took a 1-0 lead at Udinese after just two minutes. Antonio Conte burst down the right and delivered a perfect cross to Trezeguet, who headed into the bottom corner with ease. The already noisy Stadio Friuli, which was packed with traveling fans holding aloft signs reading “JUVE”, nearly took off. Trezeguet’s goal lifted Juve above Inter to the top of the league and also gave them a two-goal lead in the race for the Capocannoniere.
It was a great start for Juve and things got even better when Trezeguet became provider in the 11th minute. His excellently weighted cross set up Del Piero, who controlled the ball with a deft first touch before finishing into the bottom corner. . Eleven minutes had passed and Juventus was 2-0 up and on course to win the title.
The news soon reached the thousands of Inter fans at the Stadio Olimpico south via the ever-popular transistor radio. Inter needed an answer and it was not long in coming. In the 12th minute, Luigi Di Biagio sent a corner into the small area, Lazio goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi finished it off and Vieri finished the ball. He tore off his shirt and ran towards the Inter fans.
Inter won 1-0 and was back on top, but Lazio was not going to turn around. After a laborious defense by the visitors, Karel Poborsky scored the equalizer for Lazio. Inter recovered and Di Biagio scored again to regain their lead. However, this was classic Series A and there were more twists to come. When Inter left-back Vratislav Gresko tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper in the last minute of the first half, Poborsky read it and scored. It was a huge blow to Inter’s title hopes and it came at the worst possible time.
With Inter drawing 2-2 at Lazio and Juventus winning 2-0 at Udinese, Marcello Lippi gave his last team talk of the season. Whatever he said, it worked. Juventus came out in the second half with an imperious spring in their step. They were not going to let the advantage slip away, so it was Inter’s turn to beat Lazio.
Brescia also needed a goal in their match against Bologna. His fans had produced a homemade sign that read: “Dio esiste ed ha il codino” (God exists and has a ponytail). God works in mysterious ways, but he wasn’t working for Baggio or Brescia in the first half. With their game still goalless, Brescia was falling.
Back in the capital, Inter started the half with strangely subdued energy. They had held a six-point lead in the title race a few weeks earlier but looked like a shadow of their former selves. When former Inter player Diego Simeone gave Lazio a 3-2 lead 10 minutes into the second half, it was no surprise. His lack of celebration was little consolation for Inter, who now had a mountain to climb.
Things soon went from bad to worse for Inter, as Rome woke up in his match against Torino. Antonio Cassano hit a beautiful lob to give Roma a 1-0 lead. Inter had gone from being champions to third place in the course of 23 minutes. Football is a cruel game, but Inter fans know that the gods can be particularly malicious.
The punishment was not over for Inter. With 73 minutes on the clock, Simone Inzaghi, Inter’s current coach, extended Lazio’s lead to 4-2. Shortly after, Ronaldo was substituted. He sat on the bench and sobbed, rivers of tears running down his fingers as Inter’s dreams crumbled. It remains one of the most iconic images in Serie A history. It was to be Ronaldo’s last game for the club.
While Inter was falling apart, their former player Baggio was beginning to have some luck with Brescia. Jonathan Bachini gave Brescia the lead early in the second half and then Baggio was brought down by Massimo Tarantino, with Pierluigi Collina calling the penalty. Gianluca Pagliuca saved Baggio’s initial effort, but the ball went up and he saved it to make it 2-0. Luca Toni scored Brescia’s third of the afternoon as they stayed up.
Brescia’s survival meant that Baggio would play top-level football for at least another year. The 35-year-old recovered from a torn cruciate ligament in just 77 days to be available for Italy’s squad for the 2002 World Cup, but his efforts were in vain as Giovanni Trapattoni would pass him by for Japan and South Korea.
As Juve fans sang their hearts out in Udine and Inter fans began to come to terms with one of the biggest meltdowns in modern sport, there was an epilogue to this epic story. When the goatee-bearded Hübner scored a penalty as Piacenza gave them a 2-0 lead against Verona, he was now just one goal behind Trezeguet in the battle for the golden boot. The win was enough to keep Piacenza in Serie A, but would Hübner score again to catch up with Trezeguet?
With six minutes remaining, the veteran striker found himself closing in on the Verona goal. He came around the goalkeeper and slipped the ball into the net from a tight angle. The 35-year-old had earned a share of the Capocannoniere. He took off his shirt and roared in celebration.
As the full-time whistles blew across the country, Juventus were Italian champions, Roma were runners-up and Inter had slumped to third. Juve would retain their title, and reach the Champions League final, the following year; Inter finally won another title in 2007; and Roma are still waiting to get another Scudetto.
Looking back to May 5, 2002, a day that had as much drama as any football fan could expect from an entire season, the only sadness is that this was perhaps the last day of the glorious Serie A empire that had dominated world football for two decades. .