In October 1999, Sven Goran Eriksson’s Lazio welcomed reigning champions AC Milan to the Stadio Olimpico. The Biancocelesti were unbeaten at the time and had recorded an impressive 2-1 win over Parma at the Tardini the week before. Alberto Zaccheroni’s side, however, had begun the season in sluggish fashion, and a positive result in Rome was imperative to get Milan’s title defence back on track.
As the smoke from the pyro slowly cleared, it was the hosts who started the brighter, as Christian Abbiati was forced to fly off his line to deny Lazio’s Croatian forward, Alen Boksic. But the Biancocelesti’s early dominance soon paid off. Following some abject defending by the Rossoneri, who failed to clear their lines on a couple of occasions, the ball broke to Juan Sebastian Veron and the Argentine smashed a volley hard into the ground and past Abbiati. It was the in-form midfielder's third goal in five games, having already scored against Cagliari on the opening day and Torino in week three.
Lazio were brimming with confidence and Veron almost made it two immediately, letting fly from all of 30 yards, only to see his effort come crashing off the crossbar. But with the Aquile dominating the half, the Olimpico was left stunned when, almost out of nowhere, Milan equalised. Some neat play down the Rossoneri’s right side released Serginho in a dangerous position and the Brazilian’s low cross found George Weah. Despite fluffing his finish, the Milan number 9 was awarded a huge slice of luck as his effort deflected off the diving Sinisa Mihajlovic and into the net, squaring things up.
Eriksson’s men didn’t let the surprise equaliser faze them, and after Abbiati had denied Boksic an almost immediate reply, the home side re-took the lead from the resulting corner. Having just prevented his side from falling behind, Milan’s stopper was at fault, attempting to punch the ball clear only to glance it into his own net. 2-1 became 3-1 just two minutes later; Sergio Conceicao’s perfect cross finding the head of Lazio’s Marcelo Salas. The little Chilean predator appeared to hang in the air for an eternity before powering his header past the diving Abbiati.
Just as Lazio thought they might go into half-time with a two-goal cushion, one of the league’s most deadly strikers had other ideas. After a fortuitous ricochet on the edge of Lazio’s 18-yard box, Milan midfielder Guly slid the ball through for Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian found himself one-on-one with Luca Marchegiani and promptly danced past the oncoming keeper before smashing high into the empty net, bringing this incredible half of football to an end with the score at 3-2.
The second period started much the same as the first, with Veron pulling the strings and Lazio dominating. And it was the Argentine maestro who twice created opportunities for his teammates to make it four. The first fell to Conceicao, who lashed a Veron pull-back over the bar. The second fell to Salas, whose header was brilliantly clawed round the post by Abbiati.
It would prove a crucial save as the Rossoneri went up the other end and equalised. Once again, Lazio’s defence was carved open by one through ball, which Weah’s pace enabled him to latch on to just ahead of Marchegiani, who could do nothing but take the heels from the Liberian forward. From the resulting penalty, Shevchenko duly slotted home, levelling things at 3-3.
Five minutes after Milan’s equaliser, the duo of Weah and Shevchenko were at it again, wreaking havoc on the Biancocelesti defence. The former PSG man found his strike partner on the edge of the box with an incisive pass. On the half-turn, Sheva took one touch to move the ball away from Giuseppe Favalli and Alessandro Nesta, and fired it into the bottom corner with his second. It was the Ukrainian’s hat-trick and Zaccheroni’s side led in a game that had looked lost.
Despite falling behind, Lazio remained positive and Abbiati had to be alert to keep out a Mancini corner kick, which almost creeped in at the near post. But in another twist indicative of this topsy-turvy game, the home side found a much-deserved equaliser. Veron was at the heart of the action once again, running on to a blocked shot and calmly squaring the ball to Salas, who had the simple task of finding the net from all of ten yards.
Salas’ second of the game would complete the scoring in this phenomenal fixture, as both teams shared the spoils at 4-4. Lazio's late equaliser would prove vital come the end of the season, as Eriksson's men ended up pipping Juventus to the Scudetto by one point in a dramatic last-day finale.
With Lazio and Milan meeting again on Monday night, we can only hope for a game half as good as this classic encounter.