Classic matches revisited: Lazio 4-4 AC Milan - a late 90s Serie A goalfest

Serie A has never been famed for goals and attacking football. Yet one night in October 1999 flies against all the stereotypes of Italian football, producing one of the most frenetic games in recent memory.

The suggestion of a high scoring draw involving AC Milan obviously evokes memories of Istanbul, and in a way they were on the wrong side of history on this night as well.

The 1998/99 season had been one of great hope for Lazio, they had signed Christian Vieri, who shone at the World Cup in France that summer. Under Sven-Göran Eriksson, they went into the final day of the season with a chance of winning their first Serie A title in a quarter of a century.

Both the Romans and their title rivals AC Milan won and Lazio were pipped to the title by just a point, with the Rossoneri clinching the title in what was their centenary season.

Lazio entered the next season, which was their centerary, without Cristian Vieri, who Inter had just broken the world transfer record to sign. Lazio wouldn’t even have the opportunity to defend their Cup Winners Cup title they had won the previous season, they were the competition’s final winners. Yet, a win in the UEFA Super Cup final against Manchester United brought some hope to Lazio fans that their team, which included Diego Simeone, Roberto Mancini, and Juan Sebastián Verón, might just be able to challenge for their second league title.

Milan, however, were boyant as a result of their title win, and their team which was littered with global stars of football such as George Weah and Andriy Shevchenko, believed that they could win the title again.

With the shadow of the previous season still looming over the teams, they met in the fifth matchday of Serie A, both teams going into the match with early season unbeaten runs, ten points out of a poosible twelve for Lazio and eight for AC Milan.

Verón puts Lazio ahead in a crazy first half

Lazio opened the scoring after 18 minutes, with Verón smashing his right-footed shot past AC Milan goalkeeper Cristian Abbiati. It was a winding run by the Argentine that opened up the space for his cross, which was far too deep and put back into the mix by Sérgio Conceição.

This was headed away by the AC Milan defence but only cleared as far as Verón who fired his first time shot past the Italian goalkeeper. Lazio were running rampant -with Verón coming very close soon after, hitting the bar with his powerful long range effort.

The boys in blue however couldn’t translate their dominance into goals, and it was the Milan side who scored next, with former Balon d’Or winner George Weah scoring a tap in from Serginho’s low cross after a quick counter attacking move.

Weah’s shot bobbled off Siniša Mihajlović past Lazio keeper Luca Marchegiani, but it was the Serb who struck back scoring directly from a corner two minutes later to restore Lazio’s lead.

These two goals in two minutes illustrate that the game was not only one of good football, but also one of gross mistakes, with the goals being officically attributed as a Mihajlovic own goal and an Abbiati own goal.

Lazio extended their lead, but Shevchenko hits back

With seven minutes to go to half time Lazio looked to have put the game out of sight, with the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas scoring a bullet header to extended Lazio’s lead to 3-1.

Salas made a drving run forward, passing to the Croatian striker Alen Bokšić, who on the right hand side of the 18 yard box with his back to goal wasn’t in a position to shoot. He tapped the ball to Conceio who pinpoint cross arrived at the head of Salas, who had made a darting off the ball run into the box. Unmarked the Chilean powered his header from around 12 yards to give Lazio a two goal lead as half time approached.

The Romans were unable to keep this lead for the remaining few minutes of a goal filled first half. Shevchenko, who put in a man of the match performance beats Lazio’s offside trap after being put in by the Argentine Guly, takes the ball round Lazio’s keeper Marchegiani and emphatically hits the ball into the roof of the net.

With Lazio’s lead cut down to one in a five goal first half Livo Bazzoli blows the whistle to signal the end of the five goal first half.

Sheva turns the game on its head

Like the first half, the second half got off to a very cagey start. Marcelo Salas’ header, coming from a great lobbed cross from outside the area from fellow South American Verón, teased a fingertip save out of Abbiati, with the more than 50,000 in the Stadio Olympico almost silent for a moment, as Lazio spurned their best chance to open up a three goal lead against the team they had lost the title to by a mere point the season before.

It wouldn’t be long before Lazio would live to rue these missed opportunities to open up a bigger lead.

Around fifteen minutes after half time, Weah was put through on goal by a through ball from Massimo Ambrosini. Although the ball had two much on it and was forcing the Liberian to a more difficult angle to get a shot away, he was brought down by Lazio keeper Marchegiani giving the Rossoneri a penalty and the chance to cut the defecit to just one goal.

Stepping up was the Ukrainian Shevchenko, who sent Marchegiani the wrong way and slotted the ball in the bottom corner.

Ten minutes later, Shevchenko completed his hattrick and the AC Milan comeback. Put in again by Weah, the number seven was faster than any of Lazio’s defenders and was able to slot the ball into the corner. It was his three goals that had completely turned the game on its head and the Milan side looked like they were to get one up on Lazio again.

Lazio fight back for an equaliser

The Romans however had other ideas. Second half substitute Roberto Mancini had his header from a corner saved emphatically by Abiatti, with it just inches away from going over the line.

Just three minutes after Shevchenko completed his hattrick and the comeback Lazio were level. A fluid piece of attacking play a ball over the top into the box, and pass to the talisman Verón lead to the Argentine finding Salas’ late run into the box and hitting it home. It was his second of the night and Lazio’s fourth.

With fifteen minutes left both sides pushed for a winner, but the search was futile - it would not come. The eight goal thriller ended four goals a piece, a clearly incredible game for the neutral but probably not what the players, mangers or fans of either side wanted.

It left Lazio with eleven points after five games and AC Milan with nine.

The aftermath

The rest of Lazio’s season had the same rollercoaster qualities of this early season game, just with a more positive outcome. Two points behind Juventus going into the final day of the season, knowing that the Old Lady would need to slip up against lowly Perugia for them to win the title, the stars aligned for Sven and his team of Serie A greats, which also included Lazio’s current manager Simone Inzaghi (a late substitute in the 4-4 game), Alessandro Nesta (who played all of the ninety the previous October) and Pavel Nedvěd (who was injured and didn’t play).

They won 3-0 and Juventus lost 1-0 to win only their second Scudetto, overturning Juventus’ five point advantage in the league with three games left. A Coppa Italia win for Lazio over Inter secured them a league and cup double in their centenary season.

AC Milan finished third, eleven points behind Lazio, and had inadvertently helped them to the title by beating Juventus in the final weeks of the season. Shevchenko however finshed top scorer with 24 goals.