The season 1998/99 - source www.lazioclubmalta.com
In the 1998 Summer transfer market, Cragnotti was determined to strengthen the squad and he succeeded as he brought at Rome nothing but the Italian national striker Christian Vieri, Chilean forward Marcelo Salas, Portuguese defender Fernando Couto and his compatriot Sergio Conceicao, Spanish Ivan De La Pena, Serbs Sinisa Mihajlovic and promising midfielder Dejan Stankovic, Argentine Mathias Almeyda and Italian veteran Attilio Lombardo. Hopes were high and Lazio was tipped by the pundits as hot-favourite for the title. The first official match of the season, valid for the Italian Super Cup, was played at Turin against reigning champions Juventus. Lazio, holders of the Italian Cup, had a good start and went infront in the first half through Pavel Nedved. Juventus then levelled with just five minutes to go from a penalty kick generously awarded by the referee. However, Lazio had the final say and in deep injury time found the winner thanks to the newcomer Conceicao, whogave Lazio its first ever Italian Super Cup honour.The Italian season started with the Coppa Italia where in the first leg played in Rome Lazio beat Cosenza 2-1 through a Salas brace.
In the second leg Lazio won 2-0, goals from Stankovic and an autogoal. The domestic league started with a draw at newly-promoted Piacenza. Lazio went in front thanks to a solo effort by De la Pena but the young Simone Inzaghi equalised for the home side. Two other consecutive draws followed. A disappointing goaless match at home against Bari and a thrilling 2-2 match at Perugia with Couto and Mihajlovic the scorers. Critics were already bombarding the squad. Erikkson had his problems. Vieri was out with a long injury, De La Pena was disappointing while the team expressed low level football. Lazio even risked a precautious exit from the Cup Winners Cup when it suffered to overcome the modest Swiss side of Lausanne. In the first leg Lazio drew 1-1 in Rome. After just 2 minutes Lazio was reduced in ten when Stankovic was sent off following a hand ball clearance to avoid an opponent's goal. Nedved scored the important goal. In the second leg, Lazio drew 2-2 thanks to Salas and Conceicao and passed through with the away goals rule. The first Serie A win, 2-0 against Cagliari (Couto and Stankovic), was a sign of relief for the fans.
This was followed by a triumphal 5-3 victory at Milan against Inter. Lazio went infront early through Salas Conceicao, ex-Winter drew for Inter, but Conceicao and Mancini scored again to put Lazio 3-1 by half time. In the second half, Conceicao and Nedved increased Lazio's lead with Ventola scoring two late goals for Inter. Lazio however did not manage to continue its positive run and was forced to a 1-1 (Mancini) draw at home against lowly Vicenza. Then a shock 1-0 first defeat against Salernitana followed, that was counterbalanced by the crashing of bottom club Empoli with two goals from Negro and one each for Salas and Mancini. In the Coppa Italia second round Lazio faced Milan. In the first leg played in Rome, Bierhoff put the "rossoneri" in front but Mihajlovic and twice Mancini gave Lazio an important win. In the second leg a 1-1 draw (Salas) was enough to secure the quarterfinals. In the Cup of Cups, Lazio faced mighty Partizan Belgrade. In Rome the match ended goaless but in Jugoslavia a Salas brace and Stankovic effort gave Lazio a 3-2 win that meant quarterfinals. Lazio's problems however, were not over yet as the team lost two consecutive matches away against Venezia 2-0 and against Milan 1-0
. Lazio and Erikkson were under intense pressure. The next match was really critical as the opponent was none-but arch-rivals Roma. Lazio disputed a good match and with fifteen minutes to go was leading 3-1 with a Mancini's double and a Salas penalty kick. Stankovic had even scored Lazio's fourth but the referee annulled it for a very dubious offside. Then Roma, although playing in ten, made an impressive comeback and equalised. An away match against champions Juventus followed. Erikkson's boys had a good performance and managed an important victory through a Salas clinical finish. It was to be the turnaround of the season, as Lazio gained confidence in its possibilities. The next victim of Lazio's renaissance was Sampdoria. The eagles crashed the "blucerchiati" 5-2 with ex Mihajlovic scoring a hatrick from direct freekicks while Stankovic and Salas scored the other goals. It was the turn of Udinese who was easily beaten 3-1 just before the Christmas break, Mancini and twice Salas scored for Lazio. In the meantime Salas had also scored Lazio's goals in a 2-1 win over Inter on the first leg of the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. At the restart, Lazio had back in its ranks both Nesta and Vieri who returned from injury and the superteam built by Cragnotti was finally in full house. Lazio won the away match against Bologna with a Vieri header. Then an important home match against leaders Fiorentina followed. Lazio played outstandingly and thanks to two superb goals passed over the Viola. An excellent combination by the duo Salas-Vieri just outside the penalty area saw the latter fire home the opener, while a Mihajlovic freekick sealed the victory. Critics now started to praise Lazio's performance giving them the title of "super squad".
Lazio's fans after 25 years began to dream again of winning the "scudetto". Their hopes increased ever more after the outstanding 3-1 victory at Parma. A Salas penalty broke the deadlock, Crespo levelled for Parma but a fabulous Mancini strike and a late Vieri goal gave Lazio all points
. In all this euphoria a sad note came in the second leg of the Coppa Italia where Lazio was knocked out by Inter in a balanced and nervous match. The "nerazzuri" at the end won 5-2 with late goals, but Lazio protested harshly for some referee's decision that favoured the home side. Infact even Nesta was sent off. Vieri and Lombardo scored Lazio's first half goals. The second round commitments commenced against Piacenza which Lazio easily beat 4-1 with goals from Mihajlovic, Salas, Stankovic and Mancini.
Lazio then travelled to Bari where on a pitch almost completely covered by snow won 3-1 with a Vieri brace, and Lombardo. Lazio's ninth win in a row was a 3-0 against Perugia with goals from Vieri and Salas twice. To beat its previous record of wins in a row Lazio had to beat Cagliari but unluckily this did not happen as Lazio only managed a goalless draw, which however permitted them to finally reach Fiorentina at the top of the table. Erikkson's squad seemed unstoppable and it was the turn of Inter to be beaten 1-0 with a Conceicao's goal. Then at Vicenza, Lazio seemed destined to a 1-1 draw but a last minute freekick by Mihajlovic gave Lazio another victory. Conceacao had scored earlier. It was time for the Cup Winners Cup quarter finals. Lazio faced Greek side Panionos and crashed them easily 4-0 on away soil with Stankovic twice, Nedved and Nesta the scorers. In the second leg Nedved, Stankovic and the so far mysterious De La Pena gave Lazio a 3-0 win.
Lazio in top form had easy way in Rome against lowly Salernitana with a 6-1 crashing that saw Nesta scoring a rare league goal for the club. The other goals came from Negro, Vieri, Salas twice and an owngoal. It was Lazio's 12th victory out of the last 13 league matches that gave the squad a clear sole leadership. The away match against bottom club seemed such a formality that even the Federation decided not to include the match in the "Totocalcio" betting list. Over 10,000 Lazio fans invaded the small Tuscan City for the battle between Goliath and David. Against all odds, despite a whole match on the attack, Lazio did not manage to find the net and disappointingly had to share the spoils with the opponents. The first leg of the Cup Winners Cup semifinal against Lokomotiv Moscow was played in Russia. Lazio drew 1-1 with Boksic equalising the Russian's earlier lead. In the return match a goaless draw was enough to secure the final against Mallorca in Birmingham.
Lazio's next four league matches were fixtured at the Olimpico. The first match was won against Venezia 2-0 (Conceicao and Mihajlovic). Then a direct encounter against title challengers Milan followed. Lazio, who enjoyed a seven point advantage on the "rossoneri", outplayed their opponents and managed to score with Vieri in the first minutes but was disallowed for a dubious offside position. Although the "biancocelesti" were clearly better than Milan, the match ended goaless. The derby was next. Roma who were having a disappointing season were keen to stop Lazio's triumphal run. They had a brilliant performance and beat a nervous Lazio 3-1, Vieri the scorer. This ended a 17 matches unbeaten run Lazio. This defeat together with Milan's win meant that the Lazio advantage was reduced to just four points with six matches to go.
Lazio's next match was again in Rome against Juventus. Lazio still shocked with the derby result had also major deficiencies on the back, since its four regular defenders were all suspended following the derby. Erikkson had quiet a problem to announce the formation as he had to invent the defensive line-up with the second choices. Despite all the problems Lazio played a valid first half and was unlucky not to open the score. However, against the run of play it was Juventus who broke the deadlock through Henry, aided by a Marchegiani's blunder. Juventus increased their lead with Amoruso but Mancini gave Lazio some hopes until Henry secured Juventus victory. What a blow for Lazio!! Milan who won their match were now trailing with just one point. Psychologically it was difficult for Lazio. The pressure was high and the fear of losing what seemed already won was even higher. A delicate away match against Sampdoria followed. The "biancocelesti" got an important 1-0 victory with a Vieri header from a Conceicao's perfect cross. Milan however continued to win to remain in play.
Lazio then went to Udine and won easily 3-0 with goals from Mancini, Vieri and Mihajlovic. Milan too won dramatically against Sampdoria 3-2 in deep injury time. Then it was the turn of Bologna in Rome. Lazio fought hard but managed a 2-0 win through Vieri and Almeyda. Milan did not disappoint either and won easily at Udine. Then Lazio travelled to Florence to face Fiorentina. Batistuta put the "viola" in front with Vieri equalising soon afterwards. Then Lazio pressed for the winner going close with a header by Vieri that hit the post. Lazio were even neglected a penalty when Salas was fouled in the area but the referee let the play on. Milan who won their home match against Empoli overpassed Lazio in the table and the title was practically lost. The squad travelled to Birmingham for the final of the Cup Winners Cup. Psychologically the team was still in Florence but once the match started Lazio, supported by over 20,000 fans that reached England, went in front with a Vieri header. The Spanish levelled immediately and the match continued on a balanced terms until Nedved volleyed home the winner from the edge of the penalty area.
It was Lazio's first ever European title.!!
Just some days after Lazio played Parma on the last day of the Italian League. Milan were playing at Perugia and with a win they would secure the title. Lazio needed a win a Milan's non-victory to clinch the title. Milan as expected did not fail and won the match 2-1. Lazio's 2-1 win through a Salas double was not enough, and for just one point the title went to Milan who had made an incredible comeback in the last part of the season.