It’s Friday morning so it’s time for another of The Cynical Challenge’s patented features. The Kickipedia column tells the story of sporting events which are memorable, wonderful, or just plain weird.
This week, to commemorate the fact that the weather has been freezing in the UK, and that the hot water has been cut off in my house, Kickipedia remembers when the meteorological conditions intervened to make what was already an exciting end to one Italian Serie A season into a real nailbiter.
The headlines at the start of the 1999-2000 Serie A season concerned the transfer of burger-loving striker Christian Vieri from Lazio to Internazionale for a world record fee of £32 million.
Lazio, managed by Swedish lothario and future England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, did not, however, appear to suffer from having lost the burly (why is it only ever strikers who are “burly”?) Vieri, staying in touch with the pack of clubs chasing early pace-setters Juventus.
The biancocelesti found an able replacement in the equally rotund Croat Alen Boksic, who would later demonstrate his love of the odd pie in a short, ill-fated spell at Premier League Middlesbrough. But they did boast some genuine class with the likes of Nesta, Nedved and Veron, while some apparently average performers would surpass all expectations – such as Matias Almeyda, who scored this screamer against Parma in September.
Juventus meanwhile raced out of the traps, and by April led the table with a 9 point lead over Lazio in second place. Theirs was a star-studded team, with Edgar Davids, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi and the imperious Zinedine Zidane. Juve began to falter, however, and they had managed to retain only a two point lead of Lazio going into the final round of matches – though, in a foreshadowing of events to come, accusations of bribery were levelled at them in early May after what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate goal from Fabio Cannavaro of Parma, which would have brought Lazio level on points at the top, was controversially chalked off.
The final round of matches took place on 15th May 2000, with Juventus needing a win away to mid-table Perugia, who had nothing to play for, to give them their 26th scudetto. Lazio faced Reggina at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, knowing that only a win combined with a Juve defeat could win them the championship.
Lazio began well and did their bit in comfortably brushing aside Reggina 3-0.
Over in Perugia, however, an enormous downpour had turned the Renato Curi Stadium into a swimming pool. With the score still 0-0 approaching half time, referee Pierluigi Collina began to show concern about the playing conditions. After blowing the whistle to end the first half, Collina proceeded to undertake a pitch inspection, and decided to delay the restart.
Minutes passed, and though the deluge had let up, the Renato Curi turf was still soaking wet. However, over an hour after the scheduled start of the second half, Collina’s unmistakeable features emerged from underneath an umbrella and the teams returned to the pitch to kick off the last 45 minutes of the season.
Having completed their victory over Reggina, Lazio’s players huddled around TV screens at the Olimpico to follow the heartstopping events in Perugia. And their mood brightened when, just four minutes into the second half, Perugia’s Alessandro Calori latched onto a poor headed clearance by Antonio Conte and rifled the ball low into the corner past Edwin van der Sar.
Chasing an equaliser which would put them level on points at the top with Lazio and into a playoff for the title, the bianconeri were dealt a further blow when Gianluca Zambrotta was sent off by Collina for two bookable offences. Juventus created chances but Perugia held on, and Lazio’s players – perhaps fittingly under blue skies in Rome – celebrated just their second ever scudetto.
"I never thought it would be this beautiful," Lazio coach Eriksson told journalists after the result was confirmed. He probably says something similar to all the ladies.
Meanwhile Juventus could only curse their luck that the weather in Perugia brightened up sufficiently for Collina to allow the players to return. I suppose, if I was going for the easy pun, I would say that it quite literally rained on Juve’s parade – but I’m not, so I won’t.