Classic Match: Inter vs. Juventus 2001/02

Seedorf

The Derby d’Italia is unquestionably Serie A’s greatest fixture. Millions of fans from around the world will be glued to their television screens as Antonio Conte’s Inter face Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus. It will be an unusual Derby d’Italia, with no supporters inside San Siro due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, the match remains of great significance.

Inter are currently sat in second place, three points behind their city rivals Milan, whilst Juventus are a further four points adrift having played one game fewer. We are yet to reach the halfway mark of the season, meaning that this highly-anticipated contest is far from a title decider.

Still, Juventus’ supremacy is under threat, which has been a rarity over the past decade. Year after year they have churned out Scudetto-winning sides. Some have been more memorable than others, but the final outcome has always been the same – I Bianconeri securing another championship. It is hard to remember a time when Juventus were not the dominant force of Italian football.

Yet, of course, they have not always had things all their own way. One particular barren spell for the club came in the late 90s and early 2000s, when they watched Milan, Lazio and Roma pip them to the title in successive seasons. Three years without the scudetto was disappointing for Juventus, but it was nothing compared to Inter.

I Nerazzurri had not won the a league title since 1989. Heading into the 2001/02 season, both teams were hungry for silverware. It became apparent early on that Inter and Juve would be battling with defending champions Roma in a three-way race for the Scudetto.

Throughout the campaign, there was very little to separate the top three. With 13 games to go, the crunch clash arrived. On March 9th, Inter and Juventus took to the field in front of 80,000 fans at San Siro, knowing that a win for either side could be decisive in the battle for top spot.

Heading into the game, Inter occupied first place, a point clear of Juventus. Roma sat in third, a further point off the pace. The reverse fixture back in October had ended 0-0. Were we set for another drab affair, or would both teams show more attacking intent this time around?

Within six minutes, we had our answer. Sérgio Conceição’s hopeful cross pinballed around the edge of the penalty area before eventually falling into the path of Clarence Seedorf. Without breaking stride, the Dutch midfielder met the bouncing ball with a thunderous left-foot volley which flew past Gianluigi Buffon in a flash. An outstanding goal, and one which Inter’s goalkeeper Francesco Toldo was clearly impressed with as he raced the length of the pitch to join in the celebrations.

Juventus were shell-shocked, and almost conceded a second goal straight away. Once again, they were unable to deal with the ball with Inter’s aerial threat in the box, with the ball nodded through to Ivan Cordoba. A more accomplished finisher may have volleyed the ball home from close range, but Cordoba snatched at his effort, sending it harmlessly wide. It was a major let-off for Juventus, and one that they took advantage of moments later.

With an attack containing Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet, Juventus were always going to create chances. In the 13th minute they scored their first big opportunity.

Collecting the ball on the right flank, Gianluca Zambrotta cut back onto his left foot and curled in an exquisite cross. Waiting in the centre was Trezeguet, who had peeled off the back of Cordoba. Standing just seven yards out, Trezeguet was never going to miss, as he powered his header into the bottom corner. Marcello Lippi’s side had recovered from their slow start and were back on level terms.

Early goals can cause teams to revert to more cautious approaches for the rest of the game. There was no danger of that here, though. Both sides exchanged chances as the half progressed.

Midway through the first half, Inter were inches away from retaking the lead. Alvaro Recoba produced a teasing cross from a tight angle, forcing Lilian Thuram into a last-ditch sliding clearance which only diverted the ball against his own post. The ball ricocheted back out onto the arm of Mark Iuliano, as Inter’s hopeful penalty appeals were waved away. Juventus had survived, but at a cost. Thuram was unable to continue, and was replaced by Igor Tudor.

Meanwhile, Juventus were giving as good as they got. Zambrotta was having a stunning game as he skipped past two challenges on the right-hand touchline before squaring the ball for Del Piero. Usually one to make the right decision in a key moment, Del Piero fluffed his lines, trying an audacious flick rather than a simpler finish. Toldo plucked the shot out of the air with minimal difficulty.

Despite chances aplenty, the game was all square at 1-1 at the interval. The second half started in similar fashion, with both sides looking for the all-important third goal. However, Juventus were soon dealt some problems in attack. Del Piero went over on his ankle and required lengthy treatment before returning to the pitch, but his strike partner Trezequet was not so fortunate. With just over a third of the match remaining, he gestured to the bench that his race was run.

Many would have expected this to hand Inter a boost. Instead, Juventus dug deep. As the game ticked into the final ten minutes, the visitors were awarded a free-kick 35 yards from goal. The set-piece was whipped into the area and met by Juventus’ first half substitute Tudor who glanced his header past the helpless Toldo. Tudor’s celebration indicated that he believed he had netted the winner. Juventus had completed their comeback. Now it was a matter of holding on for the closing minutes.

Time was running out for Inter. Were they about to lose ground in the title race? Not if Seedorf had anything to do with it. In the first minute of added time, another optimistic Conceição cross was blocked. Tracking back, Seedorf picked up the loose ball. Still 30 yards out, he took a touch and looked up. There were no passing options. He had to risk a shot.

His strike was pure and true, perfectly dissecting two Juventus defenders. Buffon dived to his left but was well beaten as the ball flew into the top left corner. The home fans rejoiced and Inter manager Hector Cuper punched the air with delight. Inter had rescued a point.

The title race in 2001/02 would end up going down to the wire. Juventus won their final five matches of the campaign to edge out Roma and Inter, with the latter suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Lazio on the final day as the scudetto slipped through their fingers. Their last-minute equaliser against Juventus would ultimately not be enough to deliver the team their first championship in 13 years.

Still, this was a classic contest that will live long in the memory. Seedorf’s brace was spectacular, but the attacking mindset from both teams also stood out as the two Italian giants refused to back down on the big occasion.

Words by: Sam Brookes. @sambrookes3177