There are not many fiercer rivalries in European football than the one between Roma and Lazio. When the Derby della Capitale is on, it is not to be missed.
There has rarely been much to separate the two sides. That was certainly the case at the turn of the millennium. Lazio earned just their second Scudetto in 1999/00, only for Roma to win their third championship the following year. Neither side were content with being second-best for long.
Juventus secured back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003, but the two Rome clubs were eager to return to the summit of Serie A in the 2003/04 season. Roma started the campaign in excellent form, going unbeaten in their first eight league matches. A 5-0 hammering of Brescia on the second matchday showed that Fabio Capello’s men meant business. They were hot on the heels of Juventus and Milan.
Meanwhile, Lazio were just two points further back, having lost just two of their opening eight fixtures. The stage was set for the first derby of the season on November 9, 2003.
There was plenty of attacking talent on display, yet chances were limited. As the ‘home’ side on paper, Roma had the majority of the fans. However, their supporters were left frustrated for long periods as I Giallorossi struggled to break down Lazio’s stubborn defence.
Francesco Totti tried his luck on a couple of occasions to no avail, whilst Brazilian winger Mancini displayed fancy footwork but little end product. As the clock ticked down, it seemed that the game was destined to finish in a stalemate – the first goalless Rome derby in almost seven years.
If there was to be a goal, it appeared likely that it would come from a set-piece or a moment of magic. In the end, it was a combination of the two. With ten minutes remaining, Roma defender Jonathan Zebina was blocked off by Lazio’s Giuseppe Favalli. The referee awarded Roma a free-kick just outside the penalty area on the right-hand side.
Antonio Cassano stood over the ball, assessing his options in the middle. At first glance, there did not seem to be many. Every Roma player was tightly marked by an opposing defender. There was just one player free, and he was stood harmlessly on the edge of the box – Mancini.
As the referee prepared to blow his whistle, Mancini started to jog into the danger area. There was no urgency to his movement, but he was allowed to move freely into the danger area by Dejan Stankovic, who passed his defensive duties onto Bernardo Corradi.
Lazio’s striker was slow to react to the potential threat. Mancini sensed his moment. The whistle blew, and he burst into life. Mancini feinted as if to move to the back post, before suddenly changing direction and darting towards the ball.
Corradi was caught off-guard and lost his footing as he tried to beat Mancini to the ball. The Brazilian youngster was ahead of his man. There was just one problem: Cassano’s cross was slightly behind his run.
Mancini was left with two choices: he could try to take a touch and risk being closed down before getting a shot away, or he could attempt something truly audacious. He went with the latter option.
Despite running at pace towards the ball, Mancini adjusted his feet just in time and met Cassano’s centre with a perfectly executed volleyed-flick. The ball whistled over the sprawled body of Corradi and into the bottom corner.
Mancini hardly had to look at the end result. The connection of the ball on his foot told him everything he needed to know. A split-second glance over his shoulder was enough for confirmation, and he was off.
Whipping off his shirt, Mancini raced onto the running track and towards the stands to celebrate with the capacity crowd. The noise was deafening. Admittedly, it would have been for any goal, but for one as outrageous as this, the roar seemed to be on a different level.
Of course, the match was not done yet. Roma still needed to see the game out. They did just, doubling their lead five minutes later through Emerson.
Yet Emerson would happily admit that it was his international teammate who deserved all the plaudits on this night. After an underwhelming 80 minutes, Mancini had stepped up and become the matchwinner with one flick of his right boot.
This victory raised hopes that Roma could mount a title challenge but they eventually fell well short, finishing 11 points behind Carlo Ancelotti’s swashbuckling Milan. They were also knocked out of the Coppa Italia by I Rossoneri, with this win over Lazio proving to be the highlight of their season.
Mancini would go on to stay in the capital for five more years before departing for Inter in 2008. He lit up the Stadio Olimpico on a number of occasions, finishing with 59 goals for the club.
There is one moment that he will be remembered for above all else, though. That movement; that flick; that celebration. It was a goal worthy of settling any Derby della Capitale.
Words by: Sam Brookes. @sam_brookes2