Classic Match: Lazio vs. Roma 1998/99

As Serie A entered week 11 of the 1998-99 campaign, Sven-Goran Eriksson was beginning to feel the heat from the Lazio faithful. Having won just three of their opening ten games, recording notable losses to Salernitana, Venezia and Milan all within the space of four weeks, the Swede knew a win was a must going into the first Derby della Capitale of the season.

Across the city, Zdenek Zeman was under no such pressure, with his Roma having lost just two of their opening ten games, picking up some impressive wins including a 2-0 defeat of Juventus. Despite Francesco Totti rescuing a late point at home to Bari the week before, Zeman’s men still went into the Lazio clash full of confidence.

There was drama right from the word go in what would turn out to be one of the most memorable Derby della Capitale clashes to date. Roma almost struck first; Luca Marchegiani was caught in no man’s land when attempting to play the sweeper-keeper role, although Eusebio Di Francesco just got his long-range lob slightly wrong.

The Giallorossi were pouring forward in the opening minutes and Damiano Tommasi set up the overlapping Paolo Sergio only for the Brazilian to pull his shot wide. Eriksson cut a concerned figure on the touchline and Luca Marchegiani didn’t help his coach’s stress levels.  The Lazio custodian came out flapping at an easy cross and the ball fell to Tommasi, but the midfielder’s effort was cleared off the line as Lazio somehow hung on.

But it was only a matter of time before Roma’s dominance paid off. Marchegiani once again did not cover himself in glory, failing to deal with Pierre Wome’s cross. Marco Delvecchio was on hand to capitalise as he instinctively stuck out a leg and tapped in from close range, giving the ‘visitors’ a deserved lead.

Yet, while Roma were busy celebrating, almost straight from kick-off Lazio went up the other end and levelled things up. A delicious ball over the top from Sinisa Mihajlovic set up Roberto Mancini, who watched the ball come over his left shoulder before executing a first-time volley which flew past Antonio Chimenti in the Roma goal. Mancini’s strike ensured the teams would go in all square at the break.

One thing was for sure, despite being level, Lazio couldn’t be much worse in the second half, and they weren’t. Flying out of the traps, Dejan Stankovic almost put the Biancocelesti in front, with his rasping effort flying wide of the target from a tight angle. It was end-to-end stuff now. Tommasi again had Marchegiani confused with a devilish cross but Delvecchio failed to get on the end of this one.

As the game reached the hour-mark, the Mihajlovic-Mancini combination paid off once again. The Serb whipped a dangerous free-kick across goal and Mancini, alert to what was going on, simply raised his left boot and flicked the ball home off his heal, putting the hosts 2-1 up.

Things went from bad to worse for Zeman’s side as, five minutes after conceding, Fabio Petruzzi was given his marching orders for a foul on Marcelo Salas. As Roma were reduced to ten men, Eriksson reacted, taking off Sinsa Mihajlovic and throwing on Fernando Couto to try and see out the game.

Eriksson may have been happy with a slender lead but Salas was determined to give his coach a two-goal cushion. The little Chilean took off down Roma’s left side, accelerating away from Pierre Wome before being fouled, giving Lazio the chance to go 3-1 up from the penalty spot. Cool as you like, Salas drove the ball home, sending Chimenti the wrong way, as the Curva Nord erupted. 3-1 up with 20 minutes to go, it was surely game over now.

Roma could easily have rolled over and died; they were down to ten men and losing, but Francesco Totti had other ideas. Having already threatened from long-range, with 78 minutes on the clock the young Roma captain engineered a way back into the game for his team.

Totti’s neat trickery in the Lazio penalty area set up Di Francesco, who poked the ball home from close range, giving the ten men belief. That belief turned into reality just two minutes later as a mixture of some comical Lazio defending and more horrendous goalkeeping from Marchegiani presented Roma with the opportunity to draw level. Delvecchio got the better of the reluctant Lazio defence, setting up Totti, and the Roma number ten just had to hit the target to score from 20 yards as Marchegiani decided to go walkabout.

As the game drew to a close, Delvecchio thought he had completed the turnaround as he got on the end of a dangerous Totti free-kick. However, referee Stefano Farina cut the celebrations short as Delvecchio was offside. With Roma pouring forward looking for the winner, Stankovic almost caught them out with the last kick of the game, breaking down Roma’s left side and letting fly, but Chimenti was equal to it as the game ended 3-3.

Lazio welcome Roma this weekend in the first Derby della Capitale of the season.  If we have anything like the entertainment of the 1998-99 clash, we will be in for a real treat: one filled with great goals, red cards, dodgy goalkeeping, penalties and most of all, some superb football.

Words by Giovanni Dougall @giovannid86

Gio has been part of the Gentleman Ultra team since 2013 and is the creator of @ClassicCalcio and @Solo_Parma. He regularly travels to Italy to follow his beloved Parma.