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Giancarlo Rinaldi On April - 21 - 2011

Rinaldi Reminisces: Inter-Lazio

Once again the brilliant Giancarlo Rinaldi returns to cast a nostalgic eye over one of the weekends key fixtures. Serie A Weekly is proud to present the latest in this wonderful series.

Brilliance and bruises down at the Meazza

It was supposed to be the “trampoline to the top”. League-leading Fiorentina had suffered their first defeat of the season away to Roma, leaving the door open to Gigi Simoni’s Inter to move ahead of the pack. The only obstacle on their path was an inconsistent Lazio side which had already drawn three of its four opening fixtures. Surely nothing could go wrong.

But this was not the all-conquering and confident Nerazzurri we have known in recent times. It was a side which always seemed to be tortured by doubts on the big occasion and, more often than not, slipped up when a chance for Serie A glory presented itself. Once again, like a clown’s trousers, it would take only a few moments for the Milanese giants to come undone.

Sinisa Mihajlovic was the instigator in chief for the Biancocelesti in this October 1998 encounter, and his pinpoint set-pieces caused all sorts of problems. It took him about a minute to deliver a first blow to the home side’s fragile self-belief. A trademark swerving free-kick was met by El Matador, Marcelo Salas, and Lazio had the lead. It set up an epic encounter.

Inter tried to force their way back into the match with chances falling to Francesco “Checco” Moriero and Ivan Zamorano while, at the other end, Francesco Colonnese did his bit with a crunching tackle on Salas which forced the Chilean to quit the game early. These were signs of a recovery and it eventually came in spectacular style. Zamorano teed up Aron Winter and the ex-Lazio man delivered a thumping shot to put the sides level. He had no reservations about celebrating the goal.

It looked like the home side were getting up a head of steam but the ringmaster Mihajlovic was about to put on another show. First he hit the post with a free-kick, then he forced a corner out of the Inter defence. And then, from the corner, he delivered another pinpoint cross for Portuguese midfielder Sergio Conceicao to nod home and put Lazio back in front.

Inter’s brittle resolve seemed to shatter and a long through-ball from Giuseppe Favalli before half-time saw it disintegrate completely. Roberto Mancini was happy to skip onto the end of the pass and gave his old Sampdoria teammate Gianluca Pagliuca in goal no chance to make it 3-1. Mancio held the ball aloft in flamboyant recognition of his first goal in six months.

“I wasn’t worried about it, but I was happy to get it at the San Siro,” he insisted afterwards. “Favalli did a great job putting me through, the rest wasn’t difficult.”

Worse was to follow for Simoni’s men as a result of a heated clash which most observers could have forecast from the outset. Diego Simeone and Fernando Couto have never been renowned for their disciplinary records and it was no surprise when they collided. It was Inter’s Argentinian who got his marching orders before the interval for stamping on the Portuguese defender.

The man advantage gave Pavel Nedved all the room he needed as he began to lead the Nerazzurri a merry dance in the second half. He skipped clear on the left to deliver a cut-back cross which was dummied by Roberto Baronio to allow Conceicao to grab his second goal of the game. The match was effectively over as a contest.

A last despairing throw of the dice came with the decision to put on young stiker Nicola Ventola for Moriero and it threatened to produce some results. However, the final glimmer of hope was extinguished when Nedved met a Baronio cross to make it 5-1. Fans started to filter away from the San Siro with 15 minutes left to play.

They missed, at least, a show of pride through Ventola. He swept home a pass from Youri Djorkaeff in the 77th minute and struck another late in injury time to make the scoreline look a little more respectable. In between times, Nedved picked up a red card to even up the playing personnel but by that stage it made little difference to the final outcome.

“I never dreamed we would score five goals against Inter, we are a great side,” beamed Lazio boss Sven Goran Eriksson afterwards. “But football is funny. We score five in a game when we are without Alen Boksic and Christian Vieri and we lose Salas and Mancini to injury. But the team played a great game both in defence and attack. It was our best performance of the season and as well as showing we have great players, we showed we have great character too.”

For Massimo Moratti, of course, there were the usual questions about Simoni’s position as coach which he tried to laugh off. “Get rid of Simoni? Don’t be stupid,” he retorted. “Besides, after a defeat is not the right time to make that kind of decision. Quite the contrary, in fact, in defeat I feel closer to whoever is suffering like me. Simoni did not set out to lose the game, it was just an off-night. A very off-night. But it can help us to learn a few things. I am sure we can recover from it, I have faith.”

However, the club owner’s belief would prove pretty much unfounded. Inter would end the season in a pretty miserable eighth place while it was Lazio who would go on to become credible title contenders. They pushed Milan to the final game of the season but would ultimately miss out on the crown by a single point.

As for Simoni, what had hardly sounded like a ringing endorsement by Moratti proved to be the harbinger of dismissal. He limped on in charge for another few weeks before finally being shown the door. At least he had had the satisfaction of winning the UEFA Cup – also against Lazio – just a few months earlier. But their last league meeting on his watch was a much more painful one. It is also the last time the Eagles won a Serie A encounter with Inter in Milan.

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