There was a time, not so long ago, when Roy Hodgson was among the most well-respected and high-profile managers in European football.
The well-travelled English manager may be more widely known to younger generations for his ill-fated spells in charge of Liverpool and England (though he did bring Fulham to the UEFA Cup final, let’s not forget), but there was a tie when he could have had his pick from plenty of jobs.
In this classic game from the 1998/99 Serie A season, Hodgson and infamously eccentric Roma boss Zdenek Zeman presided over one of the most madcap matches in the last few decades, a goal-filled encounter at the Stadio Olimpico that went against everything that the normally conservative Italian game usually stood for.
Having finished second in the league and won the UEFA Cup the previous season, Inter were expecting big things – and with the dream pairing of Ronaldo and Roberto Baggio up front, they were arguably the favourites to win the Scudetto. However, a particularly poor season had seen them dispense with manager Luigi Simoni, and then his replacement Mircea Lucescu, and turn to technical director Hodgson – who had previously managed the Nerazzurri from 1995 to 1997 – to rescue their almost forlorn hopes of qualifying for Europe.
Roma, meanwhile were faring much better in their campaign. With a formidable attacking threat of Marco Delvecchio, Paulo Sergio and Francesco Totti, the Giallorossi had a forward line that, if they were a bit more consistent, could have challenged AC Milan and Lazio for the title.
Ahead of this match, Inter had won just once in their last ten league matches. Roma had suffered defeat just once in six. This was all set up for a home win on the road to a top-four finish.
Inter, playing with the freedom of a team with little but pride to play for and under the temporary stewardship of Hodgson, took the lead with just fifteen minutes on the clock courtesy of Ronaldo. The manager had opted for a front three of Ronaldo, Baggio and Ivan Zamorano in order to blitz the home defence, and it paid dividends early on.
That lead was doubled five minutes later, as Zamorano found himself unmarked in the box to turn home Baggio’s cross into the box. Totti pulled a goal back from the penalty spot midway through the first half, but Inter’s two-goal lead was restored ten minutes before half time courtesy of Zamorano netting his second of the game with a brilliant chipped finish.
So far, so good for Inter, but the second half saw Roma mount a storming comeback as, within five minutes of the restart, the score was tied at 3-3. Paulo Sergio clawed it back to 3-2 on 47 minutes by heading over Inter keeper Gianluca Pagliuca, and the goal that restored parity, on 49 minutes, came from the head of Delvecchio. Game on.
Inter, though, refused to lie down, and restored their lead ten minutes into the second half. Baggio again was heavily involved, as his classy through ball sent Zamorano clear and in space, with Ronaldo giving chase for support. The former unselfishly (given the fact that he was on a hat-trick) squared the ball for the latter to roll into an empty net. 4-3 now in a game that was already a classic for the fans, but a nightmare for defensively-minded purists.
The score was to remain tipped in favour of the visitors until ten minutes from time. Roma pushed for another equaliser and it finally came in the 80th minute. Eusebio di Francesco, who manages the Roma first team, calmly slotted home on the half volley after what was either a wonderful pass or a terrible shot from Paulo Sergio in the build-up.
4-4 now, and as the match headed towards its conclusion, that looked to be it for the goal action. Inter, though had other ideas, and took all three points late on has Diego Simeone headed home from Baggio’s free kick on the edge of the area.
Unbelievably, the match at the Olimpico finished 5-4 to Inter, putting a major dent in Roma’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Despite the confidence gained by this win, Inter would lose their next two matches to extinguish what little hopes they had of qualifying for the UEFA Cup as they finished in eighth place in Serie A. Hodgson would move on to Grasshopper in Switzerland, being replaced by former Juventus manager Marcello Lippi. The playing squad also underwent a significant overhaul, as out went the likes of Gianluca Pagliuca, Youri Djorkaeff, Diego Simeone and Paulo Sousa, and in came Ivan Cordoba, Christian Vieri, Luigi Di Biagio, Christian Panucci, Laurent Blanc, Clarence Seedorf, Adrian Mutu and Angelo Peruzzi.
Roma, meanwhile, lost out on the top four by a single point, but did at least qualify for the UEFA Cup. They also embarked on a bit of a transformation in the, with Zeman leaving to be replaced by Fabio Capello in the dugout. The new manager would go on to win the Scudetto with Roma in 2001.
Roma: Konsel, Quadrini, Aldair, Zago, Candela, Alenichev, Di Biagio, Di Francesco, Paulo Sergio, Totti, Delvecchio
Subs: Tommassi (Alenichev 33), Gautieri (P. Sergio 80), Tomic (Di Biagio 84)
Inter: Pagliuca, C0lonnese, Bergomi, Simic, Silvestre, Zanetti, Cauet, Simeone, Baggio, Zamorano, Ronaldo
Subs: Frey (Pagliuca 62), Djorkaeff (Zamorano 80)