Inter’s shocking collapse on the final day of the 2001/02 season

Inter supporters are probably still whizzing around the streets of Milan on their scooters, honking their horns and waving their scarves over their heads in celebration of winning their first Scudetto since 2010.

Antonio Conte’s men did so with four games to spare, giving I Nerazzurri a relaxing end to the campaign, as they collect their guards of honour over the course of the next month. And thank the lord that they have wrapped it up so early, as Inter are not synonymous with ‘calm under pressure.’

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In fact, on 5 May 2002, we witnessed the ultimate Inter crumble, which resulted in one of the most iconic moments in Italian football history at Stadio Olimpico. Hector Cuper’s men travelled to the Italian capital on the final day of the season, top of the league but locked in a fierce, three-way title battle.

Inter needed to beat Lazio on the final day in order to avoid losing out to either Juventus or AS Roma, and the pressure was on for them to deliver their first title since 1989. While an away trip to Le Aquile is a tough test on paper, the circumstances certainly played into the leaders’ hands.

Lazio, bitter rivals of Roma, were in no mood to see I Giallorossi win the Scudetto for the second consecutive season, and decided to band together in support of Inter. In fact, Inter and Lazio fans sat together in harmony on this fateful day, both hoping for an away win, and to celebrate a non-Roma title victory.

Reggina v Lazio XReggina v Lazio X
Poborsky was never particularly good at Lazio (except against Inter) | Grazia Neri/Getty Images

And so, a packed out Olimpico got ready for the most mouthwatering final day shootout that could possibly be imagined. The game started well for the visitors, who dominated the early proceedings, and were rewarded on 12 minutes.

Lazio goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, who seemingly didn’t fancy seeing Roma win the league either, ‘accidentally’ dropped a clanger, allowing a corner to squirm out of his grasp and into the path of Christian Vieri.

The striker smashed home from close range, whipped off his shirt and got the party started: Inter were on their way to their first title in well over a decade. But only seven minutes later, it was game on.

One man who had certainly not read the script, nor read the room, was Karel Poborsky. The winger had underachieved during his two years with Lazio and decided to cut all ties with the club by spoiling their perfectly-laid plans.

Poborsky raced onto a loose ball in the Inter box to smash home and level the game – bagging only his third goal of the season. Celebrations were at a minimum around the ground, with the usually raucous Curva Nord falling silent at the prospect of Roma clinching the title away at Torino.

Don’t worry though, Nerazzurri fans, this one was far from over. Luigi Di Biagio cranked the music back up and, like Vieri, whipped off his shirt on 24 minutes, as he headed home from another corner to give Inter the lead. Panic over, the boys are in control.

Luigi Di Biagio of Inter Milan in actionLuigi Di Biagio of Inter Milan in action
Di Biagio in action | Getty Images/Getty Images

Only, this is Inter, and when the pressure is on, they’re rarely in control. Just as the game was approaching its interval, Poborsky decided he hadn’t ticked off the Lazio supporters enough just yet, and latched onto a defensive mixup to slam home and pull Lazio level. Like that, he had doubled his season’s tally. Only Inter.

The writing was really on the wall for I Nerazzurri in the second half, as only 10 minutes after the referee’s whistle, they were behind. This time it wasn’t Poborsky – no – it was worse. Ex-hero Diego Simeone, a former San Siro legend, rose highest to bang a header into the net (very much against his own will, it appeared) and walked off in disgust with himself.

Inter now had a mountain to climb, but they looked completely beaten. Talisman Ronaldo was substituted, and was then brought to tears when Simone Inzaghi headed in a fourth for Lazio, killing I Nerazzurri’s title dreams once and for all.

The Brazilian’s tears were moving scenes, and unfortunately for Inter fans, they would be the final images of Ronaldo in the black and blue jersey before heading to Real Madrid in the summer.

As the final whistle blew, it was heartbreak all around the ground.

Lazio fans at least took comfort in Juventus’ victory over Udinese, meaning Roma were denied the title, while Inter had to settle for third place, having started the afternoon at the top of the table. An unforgettable day for I Nerazzurri, for better or for worse.

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