Lo Scudetto! The 1999/2000 Season
After the big disappointment of losing out the title race to Milan in the previous campaign Lazio's fans suffered another tremendous blow when Cragnotti decided to sell the forward ace Christian Vieri to Inter for a record transfer fee of 90 miliardi Italiani subdivided in cash and the full transfer of the Argentinian midfielder Diego Pablo Simeone. This move by the President, that generated almost a net profit 40 miliardi having paid 50 miliardi to Atletico Madrid just the previous Summer, infuriated the fans as they considered this transfer had weakened the squad's attacking force. They also accused Vieri of being a merchant since he had changed so many clubs in his career.
With the money earned Lazio invested in the emerging Simone Inzaghi, the Argentineans Juan Sebastian Veron and Nestor Sensini, Swede forward Kenneth Andersson and Italian veterans Lombardo and Ballotta.
Eriksson's squad kicked the season early when it faced Champions League holders Manchester United in Monaco valid for the Super European Cup. Thousands of fans followed the eagles that clearly outnumbered the English supporters. Lazio, although not starting as favourite, played an outstanding match and scored midway through the first half through a solo effort by the Chilean striker Salas. The English had a timid reply although Marchegiani made an outstanding save to deny a Beckham equaliser. In the second half, Lazio lost a couple of easy chances to increase and legitimate the lead. The score remained the same till the end and the Eriksson's boys were crowned European Super Champions for the first time.
Some days later, Lazio started its Serie A campaign by winning 2-1 home against Cagliari thanks to goals from newcomers Veron and Inzaghi. A week later it was blocked at Bari in an undeserved goaless draw. No time to recriminate some controversial referee's decisions that the squad was playing its first ever Champions League match at Leverkusen. The home side opened the score in the first half but Mihajlovic equalised some minutes later through a long range freekick.
The next encounter in the league was against Torino. Lazio easily had the better of the "granata" winning easily 3-0 Veron, Inzaghi and Salas the scorers. In the second Champions league match Lazio faced Dinamo Kiev in Rome. The visitors stunned the Olimpico when they opened the score but Lazio showed character to overturn the score through two quick goals from Negro and Salas.
The away match against Parma followed, Lazio went in front through Salas, but Boghossian equalised for Parma until Lazio managed a superb winner thanks to an Almeyda long-range volley. A week later, there was the much expected much against reigning champions Milan. Lazio's players were eager to take revenge over the "rossoneri" for what had happened the previous season. Lazio built a 3-1 advantage during the first half (Veron twice and Salas) but a Shevchenko hatrick put Milan infront. Lazio however equalised and even lost the opportunities to win the match at the end. After an easy 3-0 win at Udine (Veron, Boksic, Mihajlovic) and a 4-2 (Pancaro, Stankovic twice and Inzaghi) crashing of Lecce in Rome, Lazio presented itself at Milan to play Inter as league leader. Lazio had a quiet match and Lippi's squad went in front thanks to Zamorano. The "nerazzuri" also had some chances to double the score but it was Pancaro for Lazio who levelled with some minutes to go. It was the first sign of a favourable season. Lazio then faced Verona and won easily 4-0 with Veron scoring the opener with a superb twisted corner kick Salas, Negro and Boksic scored the rest.
In the mean time Lazio progressed easily for the second round of the Champions. It beat twice 4-0 Slovenia's Champions Maribor while equalising 1-1 at home against Bayer Leverkusen and winning 1-0 in Kiev. In the second round group Lazio was to face Chelsea, Olympique Marseille and Feyenoord.
In the domestic league the derby was next. Roma were really determined the give Lazio the first defeat of the season. A brace by both Montella and Delvecchio gave Roma a 4-0 lead after just 30 minutes. What a nightmare!! Mihajlovic converted a penalty early in the second half but Roma controlled the match and won. It was a blow for Lazio's environment. As had happened in the previous season after the derby debacle Lazio faced Juventus in Rome. It ended goaless. Eriksson's lads then travelled to Perugia to face Carlo Mazzone's side and had a good performance and won 2-0 with goals from Salas and Conceicao.
It was time for the Coppa Italia and Lazio was drawn against Ravenna. In the first leg played on away soil Boksic put Lazio in front but the home side levelled to finish 1-1. In the return match Lazio risked since in the 89th minute it was only leading 2-1 (Mihajlovic and Inzaghi) but two goals (Mihajlovic and Boksic) in injury time secured the quarterfinals stage. Meanwhile in the Champions League, Lazio started on a positive note the second phase winning 2-0 in Marseille (Stankovic and Conceicao) and equalising without goals in Rome against Chelsea.
Lazio then won two consecutive home league matches, 2-0 against Fiorentina (Boksic and Stankovic) and Piacenza (Salas and Mihajlovic) to consolidate the first place before the Christmas break. The return from holidays proved fatal to Erikkson's side as it lost 2-0 at Venezia on a frozen pitch. This defeat meant Juventus relegated Lazio to second place. Three days later on the 9th January 2000, Juventus were blocked at Parma on a dramatic Crespo last minute draw for a nine-men Parma. Lazio, who were wearing for the first time a complete white kit to commemorate their centenary, celebrated in style and jumped back in first place following a 3-1 victory against Bologna, with goals scored from Salas, Nedved and new signing Ravanelli. The first round ended with a goaless draw at Reggina thus giving Juventus, winners over Perugia, the platonic Winter Champions title.
Another goaless draw at Cagliari followed that permitted Juventus to build a three point advantage. This was reduced to one, when Lazio beat Bari 3-1 in Rome (Mihajlovic, Salas, Nedved) and Juventus drew at Cagliari. The following Sunday, Lazio gained leadership after winning at Torino 4-2 (Sensini , Mihajlovic, Ravanelli and Salas) while Juventus could only manage a draw at Udine. It was evident that the title race was a matter between Lazio and Juventus. Both sides faced each other in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia. In the first leg played in Turin the homeside lead 3-0 by halftime but Lazio reacted and scored two important goals through Ravanelli and Mancini. In the second leg, Boksic gave Lazio the lead but Del Piero equalised until Simeone scored the decisive goal to knock out the "bianconeri". Lazio faced Venezia in the semifinal. It won easily 5-0 in Rome (Mancini 2, Mihajlovic 2 and Ravanelli) and drew 2-2 away with an Inzaghi brace to reach the final against Inter.
A goaless home league draw against Parma followed by a defeat against Milan gave Juventus a four-point lead. Lazio then beat Udinese 2-1 (Negro and Salas) and away Lecce 1-0 (Nedved) while Juventus won against Roma and Bari to maintain the distance.
It was Inter's turn at the Olimpico. Lazio played brilliantly and created various goal scoring opportunities but missed them all. On the other part, Inter had two chances and converted them both. Erikkson's boys reacted excellently and after various attempts found the net twice in the last ten minutes through Inzaghi and Pancaro to equalise the match. In the meantime, Juventus won easily against Piacenza to increase its lead to six points. Lazio then was shocked at Verona and lost 1-0 while Juventus won the derby against Turin and built a nine-point advantage, with just eight matches to go, to book its 26th title.
With the restart of the Champions League, Lazio faced twice Feyenoord losing at home 2-1 and drawing 0-0 away to complicate life. However, a stunning 5-1 demolishing of Marseille, with four Inzaghi goals and Boksic, followed by a historic 2-1 win at Chelsea (Inzaghi-Mihajlovic) earned victory in the group and qualification for the quarterfinals against mighty Valencia.
This qualification alleviated a bit the pressure for the coming derby. Juventus who played Milan at San Siro were surprised by the "rossonero" and lost 2-0 giving Lazio some hope. In the derby, Roma went immediately infront through Montella but Lazio, with two goals in three minutes by Nedved and Veron, overturned the score to win and reduce the gap with Juventus to six points. The direct encounter between the two rivals was next. Infact, a week later Lazio presented itself at Turin with one objective. victory. In an intense match both teams played well but it was Lazio who scored the solo goal of the match through a Simeone header from a Veron's freekick. Mission was accomplished Lazio was now only three points behind Juventus with six matches to go.
Three days later Lazio travelled to Valencia and was heavily defeated 5-2 by the Spaniards. The goals from Inzaghi and Salas were not enough to hope for a comeback. In the following league matches both Lazio and Juventus won. Lazio beat Perugia 1-0 with a Lombardo goal while Juventus beat Bologna 2-0. It was time for the first leg of the Coppa Italia final in Rome against Inter. Seedorf put the "nerazzuri" infront but Nedved and Simeone gave Lazio an important win.
Lazio then travelled to Firenze. In a very tense atmosphere it was blocked on a 3-3 draw. Lazio lead 2-1 at half time thanks to Nedved and Boksic. Fiorentina levelled early in the second half but Mihajlovic, minutes after missing a penalty, converted the second penalty given by the referee until in injury time Batistuta equalised for the home side. It seemed the end of Lazio's title hopes as Juventus had won away against Inter to enjoy a five point advantage. To add insult to injury, three days later Lazio was definitely eliminated from the Champions League despite winning 1-0 against Valencia. The season was going in the wrong way, with only the Coppa Italia as a realistic objective.
However, a still determined Lazio side won 2-0 (Simeone and Veron) at Piacenza while Juventus beat Fiorentina to conserve the advantage. With three matches to go the interest was when Juventus was going to mathematically adjudicate the title. The first chance came at Verona but the "bianconero" had a poor performance and were unexpectedly beaten. Lazio took advantage and won at home 3-2 (Simeone, Inzaghi and own goal) against Venezia to reduce the gap to two points. Lazio's next match was at Bologna while Juventus were to play against Parma.
Over 15,000 Lazio fans followed the squad at the Emilian capital city. The team had a fantastic display and won 3-2 thanks to goals from Conceicao, Simeone and Salas. However, Juventus also won a much controversial match 1-0, with the Parma players and officials heavily protesting against the referee's decision to annul a valid last-minute equaliser from Cannavaro. This really did not go down to all Lazio's players , officials and fans who reacted quite violently to all this favours towards Juventus stating that the league was falsified with all these decisions that eased the "bianconeri's" title race. It was a very tense week with the Juventus-Parma referee, De Sanctis, used as a scapegoat. Lazio's hardcore fans threatened that they were going to protest violently in the streets of Rome to show their annoyance over this situation. Infact they did so.
Finally Sunday came and Lazio faced Reggina in Rome while Juventus went to Perugia. Lazio, infront of over 50000 fans, were awarded two penalties that gave the "eagles" a double lead at halftime. On the otherhand, Juventus were still held on a goaless draw at halftime.
During halftime a huge rain hit Perugia that flooded the pitch. Referee Collina decided to postpone by over half an hour the restart of the second half. On the otherhand, in Rome midway through the second half Lazio scored another one thanks to Simeone to win 3-0. Lazio fans invaded the pitch, as per last match tradition, while listening via radio the second half of the Perugia match that started late. For their joy, it was Perugia who broke the deadlock and scored through Calori. If it finished like it was Lazio's the title. Juventus attacked in panic and had a couple of opportunities to equalise but missed them. At the final whistle, that meant Juventus defeat, the fans in Rome exploded with joy and started the celebrations. Lazio and its followers were over the moon. Celebrations continued on a larger scale in the streets of Rome over the night. A dream had come true !
Four days later Lazio presented itself in Milan to play the return leg of the Coppa Italia final. Lazio needed a draw to win the cup and managed a goaless draw without risking so much to obtain a memorable double. Lazio was the queen of Italian football.