A decade back world was a different place. A year of 2001 has been an iconic year and it will be remembered for demise of George Harrison, Sir Don Bradman, Robert Ludlum, horrors of 9/11 and Afghan war which was brought upon us. But it also gave us something to remember.
It happened in Italy. The season of 2001-02 gave us a thrilling chase for The Scudetto. It has been by far one of the best Serie A season in my memory. Of course there have been seasons all over the world where the titles have been decided on the last day. But this season was like no other. After so many twists and turns throughout the season, three teams headed into the final day with a chance to win the title.
With the fate in their own hands Inter, Juventus and AS Roma entered into final day all with a chance to clinch the title. But it was Juve who snatched the title as Inter suffered a dramatic meltdown in Rome.
The world also saw return of El Fenómeno, Ronaldo on the pitch after a lengthy absence of one and half year due to horrific injury. Ronaldo again got injured but regained full fitness just in time to return in last 4 matches for Inter.
Juventus having lost previous two titles to Roma and Lazio by 2 and 1 point were eager to shake up nervousness in the final run in and claim their 26th title. Roma were defending champions and were looking solid under Fabio Capello.
Crazy Transfer Season
With the World Cup looming large in the summer of 2002, Italian teams got super busy in the 2001 summer transfer window. Among 18 teams, staggering 230 players were signed and 198 were transferred out. With an average of 12 players per team signed in and 11 signed out, it surely must’ve been a craziest transfer season.
Juventus sold Zinédine Zidane to Real Madrid for a record fee of €86.5M and paid exuberant €54M to Parma for Gianluigi Buffon, making him world’s most expensive Goalkeeper. Juve also paid Parma €36.5M for Lilian Thuram and also bought Pavel Nedved from Lazio for €41M. Inter certainly had been a busiest team in the League. They actually bought an entire additional squad as an addition to their current players. Have a look at Inter’s second XI below.
Subs: GK Fontana, DF Padalino, MF Guly, Brncic, FW Adriano, Ventola
Lazio bought Manchester United defender Jaap Stam, Valencia midfielder Gaizka Mendieta and the promising Stefano Fiore and Parma bought Japanese superstar Hidetoshi Nakata and goalkeeper Sébastien Frey. AC Milan They bought young Italy U-21 superstar Andrea Pirlo from Inter, and executed a very strange deal with Juventus. Milan had bought youngsters Cristian Zenoni and Massimo Donati from Atalanta, but within hours had sent Cristian Zenoni and cash to Juventus in exchange for Filippo Inzaghi. One of the big sagas of the summer was the destination of new superstar Antonio Cassano, who had Juventus and Roma fighting for his signature. Cassano chose Roma, defending champions.
This merry go round was for the managers as well. After 2 disappointing seasons, Juventus sacked Carlo Ancelotti in the summer and brought back Marcello Lippi from Inter. Inter signed Héctor Cúper from Valencia as their manager. Milan was hoping to not repeat last season’s disappointment, and hired Turkish manager Fatih Terim. He was sacked in midseason and was replaced by Ancelotti. Lazio had fired Dino Zoff in the summer and signed Alberto Zaccheroni.
Fiorentina confirmed Roberto Mancini as their coach but after a run of poor results, sacked him and appointed Ottavio Bianchi. Bianchi too was sacked within 2 months and then was replaced by Luciano Chiarugi. Venezia, Udinese, Leece and Fiorentina all changed coaches during the season. Renzo Ulivieri at Parma was sacked in November and was replaced by Daniel Passarella, but he too was sacked within a month and replaced by Pietro Carmignani.
Above four components made the season very interesting. Newly promoted Chievo Verona under Luigi Delneri, stole the hearts of the football lovers and heartbeats of the opponents by their incredible performances. They not only finished 5th in the league, they actually led the league for 5 weeks and were one of the strong contenders for the title.
In the wake of World Cup starting in June 2002, Serie A started in August than usual September.
Juventus’s blistering start
In the season opener Mohammed Kallon and Christian Vieri scored twice to give Inter a 4-1 thrashing of Perugia at Home. In Turin David Trezeguet’s 2 goals in 2 minutes and 2 by Il Capitano Alessandro Del Piero helped Juventus to score 4 unanswered goals against Venezia while Chievo travelled to Florence for their first even top flight game, shocked the world by beating Fiorentina 0-2. Defending champions Roma threw away lead against Chievo’s city rivals Hellas Verona and could only draw 1-1.
Corradi and Cassato scored for Chievo against Bologna at home in Matchday 2. Del Piero and Trezeguet ensured an easy 0-2 away win at Alatanta. Inter conceded an 85th minute equaliser against Parma and salvaged 2-2 draw. Roma’s bad luck continued as they too conceded 90th minute goal against Udinese at home and posted a 2nd consecutive draw.
In the top of the table clash Juventus hosted Chievo at Stadio delle Alpi and produced a thrilling spectacle. Del Piero had 2 chances within 8 minutes from the start. The deadlock was broken by Chievo through a mistake from Buffon when he spilled the ball from the corner in front of Marazinna and he just slotted the ball in the net. Chievo shocked the Old Lady by taking 0-2 lead within 20 minutes. Tacchinardi’s volley a minute later brought one goal back. Juve then created host of chances and scored an equaliser through Tudor’s header on 40th minute. On the 83rd minute, Marcelo Salas’s chip hit the crossbar and hit the defender’s hand on the rebound. Referee awarded the penalty to Juve which Salas coolly converted. The match ended in 3-2 score line although there could’ve been many more goals.
Inter’s match against Venezia too provided thrilling finish. Inter took a lead through Kallon’s penalty and conceded an 89th minute equaliser. It was Adriano (remember him? Yes, he was signed in the summer from Flamengo for €7M before being loaned out in January) in the injury time pounced on a loose ball when his header was saved and scored a dramatic winner.
Roma slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Piacenza.
Flight of “The Flying Donkeys”
Next 6 games were no less than miraculous for Chievo. The Flying Donkeys grabbed 14 points out of 18 available by winning 4 games and drawing 2.
In Matchday 4 they beat Piacenza 4-2, 1-2 victory against Udinese in Matchday 5. In Matchday 7, Chievo could’ve made a history by winning 3 games in a row but they conceded 80th Minute equaliser against Brescia and earned a 2-2 draw. In Matchday 8 Parma was beaten 1-0, In Matchday 9 Chievo put 3 goals past Torino and in Matchday 10 they played out 0-0 draw at Venezia.
AS Roma quietly got on with their business and started a voyage of 24 unbeaten games. Roma too picked up 14 points from maximum 18 available in 6 games.
In Matchday 4, Roma came back from behind to beat Fiorentina 2-1 at home, thanks to Panucci’s 87th minute goal. Matchday 5 was an emphatic 0-2 win against Juventus at Stadio Delle Alpi. After playing a boring 0-0 draw against Perugia, Roma thrashed Leece 5-1 in Matchday 8 at Home. Matchday 9 was a “Derby della Capitale” against Lazio which was won 2-0 by Roma. In Matchday 10 Roma drew 1-1 against Atalanta.
Matchday 4 saw Ronaldo making comeback for the 1st time after a lengthy absence of one and half year due to Injury and 2 operations on his knee. Ronaldo was an unused sub in a 0-1 victory against Torino. He did not feature in 1-0 victory against Bologna and in a 1-1 Draw against Udinese. Matchday 8 was a “Derby della Madonnina” and Inter suffered a humiliating 2-4 defeat in the hands of AC Milan which was their 1st of the season. Next up was a trip to Juventus which ended in a 0-0 draw. Inter recovered from this mini slump and beat Leece 2-0 at home. Ronaldo didn’t feature in any of these 3 games as well.
Juventus however had a miserable run of 6 games in which they could manage to pick up only 5 points. Juve drew with Leece (0-0), Torino (3-3), Bologna (0-0), Inter (0-0), Hellas Verona (2-2) and lost to Roma in the Matchday 5.
AS Roma tightened the screws
Matchday 11-15 and 6.
Matchday 6 was played between Matchday 15 and 16.
Roma continued their resurgence and posted 4 wins in a row (1-3 vs. Bologna, 1-0 vs. Vicenza, 1-2 vs. Parma and 1-0 vs. AC Milan), sandwiched between 2 draws (0-0 draw against Inter in Matchday 11 and 0-0 draw in Matchday 6). They picked up 14 out of 18 points and surged up to 3rd place.
Inter too, posted 3 wins in a row in Matchday 12, 13 and 14 against Fiorentina (2-0), Atalanta (2-4) and Brescia (1-3) respectively. In the match against Brescia, Ronaldo played for 66 minutes and opened the scoring for Inter. In Matchday 6 against Hellas Verona, Ronaldo again scored a brace in 3-0 win.
Chievo maintaining their impressive form won 2-0 vs. Perugia and a hat trick of wins in Matchday 14, 15 and 6 against Leece (2-0), Inter (1-2) and Lazio (3-1). They however lost to first ever Verona derby against Hellas Verona 3-2, after squandering a 0-2 lead. Chievo squandered 1-2 lead against AC Milan in Matchday 13 and lost 3-2.
Juventus too, had a series of mixed results. Apart from winning against Parma (3-1), Perugia (2-0) and Piacenza (2-0), Juve drew against Milan and Fiorentina and lost to Lazio (1-0).
Chievo’s 2 defeats saw their lead at the summit reduced to only 1 point and Inter ready to pounce on any slip up. Steady performances by Inter and Roma, Juventus’s erratic form saw them in the 4th place, 7 points adrift of the leaders Chievo.
Old Lady joins the party
Although Juventus were 7 points behind, they were unbeaten in their last 4 games and were firing all cylinders. Juve now had turned the tide. They extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games and posted 6 wins in a row, picking 18 out of 18 points.
In Matchday 16 Juve thumped Brescia 0-4, and Inter defeated Piacenza 2-3. Chievo met Roma at home and were hoping to maintain the lead at the summit. Roma got a corner on the 25th minute and Emerson’s header was heroically saved by the goalkeeper but resulted in another corner. This time Emerson rose again and headed the ball in the net. But in the 53rd minute Roma’s goalkeeper Antonioli got sent off for stupidly bringing down Marazzina on the edge of the box. This sending off galvanised Roma and they scored 2 more goals without a reply. Chievo were comprehensively beaten by the defending champions.
In the next game, Juve put 3 goals past Udinese while Roma and Chievo too got 1-0 and 1-2 victories respectively. Inter’s 0-0 draw at home against Lazio meant Roma take the lead at the top of the table for the first time in the season.
Chievo threw away 2-1 lead against Fiorentina when Adriano (on loan from Inter) scored another 90th minute goal to salvage 2-2 draw for the Violas. Roma hosting Hellas Verona went down 0-2 within 53 minutes through Adrian Mutu’s brace. But an incredible fight back saw Roma equalising through Assunção and Cassano by 63rd minute. Fabio Capello had brought on Gabriel Batistuta for Zebina in the 46th minute. Batigol scored a winner in the 89th minute to maintain Roma’s lead at the top.
Juventus now in top gear, went on to comfortably beat Atalanta (3-0), Chievo (1-3) and Leece (3-0). Roma and Inter could only win once and draw twice while Chievo’s slump had started. They lost twice in a row and drew against Piacenza saw them losing ground to leaders by 7 points.
Matchday 16 saw Ronaldo getting injured again and faced another lengthy term on the sidelines.
Relentless Inter at the Summit
Roma and Juve both hit some sort of mini slump and lost the ground on Inter. In the next 8 games, Inter lost against Bologna (2-1), and then won their next 3 games in a row against Hellas Verona (0-3), Udinese (3-2) and a derby victory against AC Milan (0-1).
Juve meanwhile played a goal less draw against Roma, defeated Fiorentina (2-1), drew 2-2 in the Turin derby against Torino and had beaten Bologna (2-1).
Matchday 26 was between Inter and Juve at San Siro. Clarence Seedorf hit a 30 yard bullet shot in the 6th minute to put Inter ahead. David Trezeguet scored a headed goal in the 13th minute to bring parity. In 81st minute, unmarked Igor Tudor scored a header to put Juventus ahead. But Seedorf had another plans. In the injury time he unleashed another missile in the top left corner, this time from 40 yards. Match ended in a pulsating 2-2 draw.
Roma meanwhile had managed 3 win and 3 draws in their 6 games. After drawing to Juve in the matchday 22, they drew blank again against Brescia. Roma managed to beat Perugia by a solitary goal and drew again to Leece (1-1).
While Inter and Juve were locked in an epic battle at San Siro, Roma played “Derby della Capitale” at Stadio Olimpico against Lazio. Roma annihilated their eternal arch rivals 1-5 in which Vicenzo Montella scored incredible 4 goals.
Blessed by Seedorf’s lifeline, Inter won their next game against Leece (1-2).
Matchday 28 was a top of the table clash between Inter and Roma. Both teams went in the match on same points. Inter mercilessly thumped Roma 3-1 and on the same day Juventus too, lost to Parma after conceding 87th minute goal.
Juve came from behind to draw their next game against Lazio (1-1). While Inter and Roma both posted wins against Fiorentina and Bologna respectively.
This Juventus’ slump pushed them down to the third spot and opened up 6 point gap to the leaders Inter. With 5 games to go in the season and 3 point lead over Roma, it was surely Inter’s title to lose. And it turned out to be exactly that way.
Old Lady’s heat starts a meltdown
What happened next is some sort of miracle.
Old Lady of Turin suddenly woke up from her cocoon and posted 4 wins in a row. First Juve beat Perugia (4-0) and then a lucky own goal by José Antonio Chamot helped them to nick a 1-0 victory against Milan. Juve held on to their nerves and through Pavel Nedved’s 88th minute goal, beat Piacenza (1-0). In the penultimate game against Brescia, a Trezeguet hatrick and Del Piero brace helped them to thump Brescia 5-0. Juve sneaked past Roma into the 2nd spot with this win.
Sluggish Inter lost to Atalanta at home (1-2) but the next game against Brescia saw the return of El Fenómeno to the full fitness. Ronaldo inspired Inter and scored a brace in defeating Brescia 2-1. In the next match against Chievo, Dalmat and Ronaldo put Inter in the lead (1-2) but they went off to sleep in the injury time when unmarked Cossato coolly slotted the ball past Toldo to make it 2-2. Inter woke up by this alarm and then thrashed Piacenza 3-1 in the penultimate game and maintained the lead in the table.
On the other hand, AS Roma recovered from being 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Venezia, defeated Parma (3-1), drew a crucial game against AC Milan 0-0 and in the penultimate game thrashed Chievo (5-0) in which Montella again scored a hat trick. Roma lost a ground on Inter and traded the place with Juve because of these draws.
So after so many twists and turns, on 5th May 2002, all teams entered into the final Matchday for a simultaneous kick off.
The points table and head to head results meant all three teams had an opportunity to win the Scudetto.
Inter had the title in their own hands. A win or same results by all teams would be insuring the title for Inter. But Inter’s draw and Win by Juventus would take the title to Turin. A draw by Inter and Juve but a Roma win would mean Roma will be the Champions. Juventus would have had to better Inter’s result and Roma would have had to better Juventus AND Inter’s result for the championship.
Interestingly all the three teams travelled away from home for the last game. Inter travelled to Lazio (AS Roma’s Rivals), Roma travelled to Torino (Juventus’ Rivals) and Juventus travelled to Udinese. All the three stadiums were packed by Away fans, hoping for their team to clinch the title. All eyes on the ground and ears on their radios, fans sat nervously watching the game.
An interesting factor was developing between Lazio and Inter game. Lazio ultras ‘Irriducibili’ have a strongest friendship with the ultras of Inter. So on the last day many fans of Lazio were supporting Inter, their opposition, hoping they would claim the Scudetto instead of hated rival Juventus and Roma.
What happened on the Matchday can be termed as a Meltdown in Rome.
Juventus’ David Trezeguet opened the scoring with a simple header in the 2nd minute.
Trezeguet’s cross from the left side of the half line on 11th minute, released Alessandro Del Piero in space on the right. Del Piero gave a perfect first touch to the ball and let it roll perfectly in front before unleashing a fierce right foot shot in the bottom corner of the net. 0-2 up.
Title was going to Turin.
Stadio Friuli full of Juventus supporters held on to their breath and switched their ears towards Rome.
Switch to Rome.
12th Minute in Rome. Inter got a corner and the ball was swung in. Lazio keeper Peruzzi rose to claim it but very conveniently spilled the ball in the feet of Christian Vieri, who put the ball in the net and immediately took his shirt off and ran emphatically. 0-1 at Rome.
Title was going to Milan.
19th Minute in Rome. Lazio’s Karel Poborsky pounced on a loose ball in the box and scored for Lazio against the run of play, the plan and mainly the fans. 1-1. Pin drop silence in the stadium. Both sets of fans became unhappy.
Title was again heading towards Turin.
23rd minute in Rome. Inter got a corner after Fernando Couto needlessly put the ball behind. Diego Simeone failed to mark Luigi Di Biagio at the near post and he flicked a header in for a goal. 1-2. Stadio Olimpico erupted.
Title again made a U-turn towards Milan.
45th Minute in Rome. Inter’s Vratislav Greško’s header towards his own keeper fell short and in the feet of charging Karel Poborsky. Poborsky could do nothing but slot the ball into the net. 2-2.
Half Time in the Capital, and the Title was heading towards Turin.
55th Minute in Rome. A free kick to Lazio. Critiano Zanetti failed to mark Diego Simeone and he scored an easy header. 3-2.
Meanwhile Alessando Nesta of Lazio made a goal like clearance. Inter’s hopes were quickly fading into obscurity.
73rd Minute in Rome. Unmarked Simone Inzaghi scored a header past Toldo to make it 4-2. Ronaldo had given his all and was clearly spent. He was substituted in the 77th Minute. Ronaldo had barely made it to the bench and couldn’t keep his emotions and started sobbing.
Inter had blown it up.
News of Inzaghi’s header sent Juve’s supporters in Stadio Friuli into hysteria. Lazio’s ultras were getting unhappy to see their team win.
Meanwhile Antonio Cassano scored for Roma against Turin and that rubbed further salt in Inter’s wounds.
Full time whistle brought happiness in Turin, sorrow in Milan and anger in Rome. Juventus grabbed their 26th Scudetto.
Incredible thing about Juve’s win was they led the table for only 5 weeks. After leading the table for initial 4 weeks, Juve returned to the top only after Matchday 23 before getting knocked down to 3rd place again.
Have a look at their standings after each match day.
Juventus kept their cool while Roma and Inter simply choked up at crucial stages.
This act of betrayal by Lazio players was taken seriously by ‘Irriducibili’ Ultras and they demanded Lazio manager Alberto Zaccheroni to be sacked.
Not only Lazio sacked Alberto Zaccheroni but also transferred two goals scorer Karel Poborsky to Sparta Prague.
After all those wrong things in 2001, the season finale will always be remembered.
Stanley Rous, ex FIFA president had correctly said,
“If this can be termed the century of the common man, then soccer, of all sports, is surely his game…. In a world haunted by the hydrogen and napalm bomb, the football field is a place where sanity and hope are still left unmolested.”