[:: The Season 2002/2003 ::
After the disappointing 2001/2002 campaign, Cragnotti decided to sack Zaccheroni and opted for the Roberto Mancini as coach. The squad seemed strong enough to challenge for the title and despite various rumours no major Lazio player was transferred till the last day of the market window when all of a sudden, Lazio fans were shocked with the news that their idol and captain Sandro Nesta was sold to Milan after the presumed intervention of Italian Premier (and Milan owner) Berlusconi. Moreover, Argentine striker Hernan Crespo was also sold to Inter due to financial problems. It was quite a blow for the fans and for Lazio's title ambitions. However after a couple of days in disarray everyone realised that this was done for the benefit and the long-run survival of the club since it was in deep financial difficulties.
With a couple of new faces namely Oddo, Sorin, Manfredini, Chiesa and Corradi ,spirits were not high and the season kicked off badly with a 3-2 defeat at home with Chievo. Simeone and newly-arrived Corradi being the scorers. The defence seemed much vulnerable with Nesta and his absence was highly felt. Four days later Lazio made their debut in the Uefa competition after a couple of years in the Champions League, with an easy home 4-0 win against Xanthi of Greece. Manfredini, Lopez, Inzaghi and a regenerated Cesar the scorers. Then Lazio faced an uneasy match at Turin against Torino and after a satisfactory performance managed a late winner through a Simeone header.
This gave much courage to the squad whose next match was against Milan of Nesta. The return of the ex-captain after just 28 days from his departure was quite strange for the fans. Some applauded him others whistled him. Lazio played strongly to win a deserved draw at home and halt Milan 's string of successes. An early goal by Paolo Maldini for Milan spurred Lazio on to fight back and claim a draw that could nearly have become a victory. The equaliser came in the second half from Claudio Lopez, and Lazio's domination of the game continued until the final minute.
The return match against Xanthi was next and Lazio sailed into the next round of the UEFA cup with a goaless draw, thanks to their 4-0 victory in the home game. An important victory for Lazio was registered some days later, as the team beat Atalanta in Bergamo thans to Cesar to add other three points. Subsequently Lazio beat Perugia 3-0 to move into fourth place in Serie A, one point ahead of Juventus and city rivals Roma. The team put on a convincing display, with good performances all around. Simone Inzaghi compensated for his too-frequent misses by scoring in the eleventh minute. With the end of the game approaching, the home side was still leading by one goal. Then Mancini brought on Enrico Chiesa, now almost recovered from the previous season's serious injury. The fans set off fireworks as the substitution took place, and their confidence was vindicated eight minutes later. A neat assist from Lopez set up the former Fiorentina striker and the ball sailed home. In injury time, he scored once again. With the derby only a week away, Lazio presented a coherent, energetic and determined squad.
As usual, tensions were running high for the Rome derby, one of the season's biggest fixtures. Given that the fear of losing tends to override the hopes of winning, both sides came away fairly contented with a two-all draw. Lazio, dominated much of the match. After hitting the post in the first half, they finally took the lead thanks to the outstanding Stefano Fiore in the opening minutes of the second half. However, Delvecchio swiftly equalised for Roma, and a few minutes later Couto committed a glaring error, giving the ball away to Roma substitute Batistuta, who defeated the helpless Peruzzi to make it 2-1 for Roma. To the huge relief of Lazio fans, the team battled on and a neat-headed equaliser from Stankovic was greeted with rapturous celebrations. This joy was doubled when substitute Inzaghi was brought down inside the area. The referee awarded a penalty, and Lazio began premature celebrations. First choice penalty-taker Mihajlovic stepped up to the spot, but Roma's keeper Antonioli saved his angled-shot.
In the next match Lazio faced Red Star in Rome for the next UEFA Cup leg. Without many of their key players, it was Fiore who demonstrated his worth, with a neat goal in the opening minutes. Lazio managed to hold on to their lead, despite frequent danger from the visiting side.
Back to Serie A action, Lazio won three important away points at Empoli with a 2-1 victory to hold on to fourth place. Lazio took the lead with a goal by Corradi from a Mihailovic free-kick. The home side equalised promptly, but with just ten minutes to go, Dejan Stankovic was set up by Lopez, and sealed the victory for Lazio. The following week Lazio continued their unbeaten run with a sound 3-0 victory over Reggina at the Granillo Stadium. Fiore opened the score and then two goals from Stankovic and Corradi, both set up by assist-man Claudio Lopez, assured a good away victory. Lazio then drew at home against Parma after playing most of the match with only ten men, after Fabio Liverani first-half dismassal. Mihajlovic, once again lost a penalty. This time he hit the post.
Problems were in the horizon for the club, as president Sergio Cragnotti announced that a buyer is being sought for Cirio's majority stake in the football club as the mother-company was facing immense financial problems. It's a cruel irony for a club, which has been doing surprisingly well, on the pitch after a difficult season. The team have been playing excellently, despite allegedly going unpaid for months at a time, have just qualified for the next round of the UEFA Cup, and would be joint top of Serie A had it not been for two missed penalties.
Infact the threatened Rome side had won a place in the next round of the UEFA Cup after a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Belgrade . Despite facing considerable pressure from a determined young Red Star side, second goalie Marchegiani kept the ball out the net for the first half. After half-time his replacement, Lazio's third-choice 'keeper Concetti, took his place. In the 69th minute, the home side finally took the lead. Equal on aggregate, Lazio fought back and with just 13 minutes to go a fine Chiesa free-kick took a deflection and ended up in the net.
Lazio's superb away record continued in the domestic league continued with a 3 - 1 victory over Serie A bottom-club Como . With off-pitch uncertainties hanging over the club's existence, Lazio were becoming the most admired and praised team in Serie A for their determination and flair. Simeone gave the team an early lead. Corradi and Lopez, in attack for Lazio, missed several chances before Como put themselves back in the game with a goal by Corrent. The second half began 1 - 1, but an on-form Claudio Lopez scored two goals to give the visitors victory. After beating Modena 4-0 at home in the enxt league encounter , Lazio moved to just one point from top place in Serie A. Two goals in the first half (Corradi and Lopez) and two in the second (Cesar and Corradi again) brought the game to a tidy and victorious conclusion.
Some days later, Lazio took a big step towards qualification for the next round of the UEFA Cup after beating Sturm Graz 3-1 in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium. During the first half Lazio missed a painful number of chances, including several open-goal misses by Simone Inzaghi. The home side made Lazio pay for these errors, taking the lead just before half-time. However, as the second half began, Enrico Chiesa promptly slotted in a beautiful goal. Inzaghi compensated for his first-half errors by taking advantage of a Chiesa pass to give Lazio the lead. A fumble from the Sturm Graz goalie after a Lazio free-kick saw Inzaghi doubling his tally.
Back to Serie A and Lazio took top place after beating Piacenza 3-2 in dense fog to win important three away-points. The match started badly for Mancini's side, who played a poor first half-hour and found themselves losing 2-0. As during the Sturm Graz match, the team rallied in the face of adversity, and by half-time Simeone and Lopez had made it 2-2. The second half was fought out until the closing minute, when a header from new hero Bernardo Corradi gave Lazio the victory.
Lazio's first Coppa Italia match (home leg) ended in success after beating Empoli 2-0. The team featured players who don't get many league outings, and Mancini demonstrated yet again the depth and quality of Lazio's squad. The first goal was by Pancaro and the second was a penalty by Inzaghi.
The first place in Serie A was thrown away at the Stadio Olimpico, as Lazio drew 3-all with Inter, despite having taken a three-goal lead in the first half. In an electric match, Claudio Lopez scored a penalty and went on to make it a hat-trick in the first half. Delirious Lazio fans thought it too good to be true; by the third goal their team had a comfortable advantage. Then a communal flurry of indecision in Lazio's penalty area culminated in an own-goal by the unfortunate Fernando Couto. In a reverse of their recent form, Lazio played the second half with less conviction than the first. Inter played an organised and determined forty-five minutes, and were rewarded with two goals by Emre.