Beside to the Champions League Final lost against Real Madrid, Juventus won the Serie A. The most important Serie A game on the way to the Scudetto was played in Turin on April 26th 1998. Inter travelled to the Stadio delle Alpi for a much-anticipated Scudetto showdown. Inter had not won the Serie A title in almost a decade but, led by coach Luigi Simoni, they sat just one point behind Juventus with four games of the season remaining. Italian football was in its pomp and the two squads were packed with world-class players. Marcelo Lippi picked a Juventus team that contained Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids, Filippo Inzaghi, Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero. Inter had Javier Zanetti, Diego Simeone, Aron Winter, Youri Djorkaeff and Ronaldo, the Ballon d’Or winner. Despite this wealth of talent on show, none of these stars would be the protagonist of this particular Derby D’Italia. It looks like that honor went to the referee, Piero Ceccarini, who is still asked about the game to this day. Juventus took the lead in the 21st minute. After a series of misplaced passes and scrappy exchanges in midfield, Davids played a smart ball down the left wing to Del Piero, who ran directly at the Inter defence. As he reached the byline he tried to square the ball across the six-yard box. He mishit the cross but the ball fell kindly for him and, with the Inter defence struggling to react, he swung his left boot at the ball and stuck it away from an improbable angle. Inter reacted well, with Ronaldo’s pace clearly unsettling the Juventus defence, but they could not find an equaliser before the interval. When the two sets of players re-emerged for the second half, Ceccarini blew his whistle and started 45 minutes of football that are still debated in Italy – particularly by Inter fans. Inter went looking for the equaliser but squandered chances and, as the half progressed, cynicism began to prevail, with both sides becoming more intent on leaving marks on each other rather than the match. Arguments between players broke up the game’s flow, which suited Juventus, who seemed content to settle for a 1-0 win. Lippi replaced Inzaghi with combative midfielder Antonio Conte and Simoni took off winger Francesco Moriero for Chilean striker Iván Zamorano; Lippi was sticking with what he had, while Simoni desperately needed a goal. Then, in the 69th minute, two refereeing decisions pushed Juventus towards the title and left Inter furious. The game was proceeding scrappily when the ball fell between Simeone and Davids in midfield. The ball was there to be won but Simeone ignored it and swung his boot at Davids’ legs, prompting an inevitable brawl. When things calmed down and Juventus took the resulting free-kick, they surrendered possession cheaply, giving Inter the chance to counter. A long ball from the back was booted up to Ronaldo, who gave chase, battling for it with defender Moreno Torricelli. The ball bounced away from them both and into the path of Zamorano, who carried it into the penalty area before being tackled by Alessandro Birindelli. The ball rolled back into Ronaldo’s path and he poked it past Juventus defender Mark Iuliano, who body-checked him and knocked him to the ground. The Inter players waited for a whistle but it never came. As they continued to protest, Davids – who was perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch – played a long pass forward to Zidane, who stroked the ball between two Inter defenders and into the path of Del Piero. As the forward controlled the ball, Taribo West pushed him in the back and Del Piero went down. This time, Ceccarini blew his whistle and awarded a penalty. The Inter players and staff were incandescent. They surrounded Ceccarini, berating and barging into him, enraged that he would deny them a penalty and then award one to Juventus 15 seconds later. Gianluca Pagliuca came running out of his goal, leading the chase as the referee backpeddled from the crowd of angry Inter players. Simoni joined the demonstration from the touchline and was sent off for calling the referee “shameful”. After the protest relented, Del Piero stepped up to take the kick. He blasted it down the middle and Pagliuca, who had dived to his right, beat it away with his trailing leg. Buoyed by the keeper’s save, Inter went on the attack. But they could not beat Angelo Peruzzi – and when they did put the ball in the net, the goal was ruled out as Zamorano was adjudged to have fouled the Juve goalkeeper. When the final whistle was blown Juventus celebrated and Inter fumed. The enraged Pagliuca nearly ended up in a fight with a Juventus fan, the Gazzetta dello Sport lead with the headline “L’Inter urla vergogna” (“Inter cry disgrace”) and, three days later, the game caused uproar in the Italian parliament, where Domenico Gramazio of the far-right National Alliance party had to be held back as he tried to confront footballer-turned-politician Massimo Mauro, who had won the title with Juventus in the 1980s before joining the Democratic Party. Gramazio reportedly shouted “they are all thieves” during the televised debate, which did not impress the deputy prime minister, Walter Veltroni, who remarked: “We are not at a stadium. This is a spectacle that is unworthy, embarrassing and grotesque.” The whole episode had a detrimental effect on Inter. They drew their next match at home to Piacenza and then lost away to Bari as Juventus wrapped up the title. Their only consolation came in the Uefa Cup final a few weeks later, when goals from Zamorano, Zanetti and Ronaldo gave them a 3-0 win over Lazio in Paris. If anything, Ceccarini has become more certain of his decision over time. “Images show that it is Ronaldo who hit Iuliano, not the other way around. I was on the pitch, just a few metres away from the scene. The defender wants to stop the striker’s run, but Ronaldo moves the ball and doesn’t follow it. He hits Iuliano who is still in the middle of the area. I told Pagliuca that would have been a charging foul in basketball. Actually, I should have probably given a free-kick for Juventus. ”The Derby d’Italia, a derby once based on sporting excellence, became a game weighed down by resentment and ill-feeling within the space of 15 seconds. But the controversies, accusations and lingering bitterness between Juventus and Inter only add to the spectacle.
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