Zdeněk Zeman once famously said “If you score 90 goals then it shouldn’t really worry you how many are conceded.”
It was a quote that symbolised Zeman’s all-out attacking philosophy. A philosophy that yielded him success with the likes of Foggia and Pescara, but also failures and sackings at many other clubs. Nowhere was the drawbacks of this philosophy more demonstrated than in his Roma side’s 4-5 defeat to Inter in the latter stages of the 1998/99 season.
Usually if a team scores four goals at home, they record an emphatic win. But in typical Zeman style, Roma conceded five and came away with nothing. This defeat contributed to their failure to qualify for the Champions League that season, despite having scored the most goals in Serie A.
It was a match that, in truth, Roma should’ve won. Inter were enduring a torrid season, languishing below the European places despite having a squad which boasted the likes of Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Diego Simeone, Ivan Zamorano and Javier Zanetti. By the time they faced I Giallorossi in May, they were on their fourth coach of the season, Roy Hodgson, who had been brought back to Inter with the hope that he could secure UEFA Cup qualification.
Zeman’s Roma lined-up in his favoured 4-3-3, which included the deadly front-three of Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio, and Paulo Sergio (who scored 42 goals between them by the end of the season). Hodgson opted to set out his Inter side in a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Baggio playing as a number ten behind Ronaldo and Zamorano.
Ronaldo put Inter a goal up within 17 minutes; Baggio had spotted the Brazilian sprinting past an unfocused Roma defence and expertly chipped the ball over to him. Ronaldo subsequently went around I Giallorossi’s goalkeeper, Michael Konsel, and calmly sent the ball into the back of the net. Zamorano (wearing his famous 1+8 shirt) doubled I Nerazzurri’s lead five minutes later, with Baggio assisting again.
Roma were given a lifeline four minutes later when Inter’s Giuseppe Bergomi brought down Paulo Sergio in the 18-yard box, with Totti duly scoring the penalty that was given. Zamorano added I Nerazzurri’s third, and his second, in the 35th minute, thanks to a lovely chip over Konsel.
I Giallorossi came back out after half-time fighting. Within the space of just two minutes, Zeman’s side had scored two goals and were back on level terms with Inter, courtesy of headers from Paulo Sergio and Delvecchio respectively.
This wouldn’t last long, however. Ronaldo sealed his brace in the 56th minute with a superbly worked team goal. Zamorano was sprinting through Roma’s half, easily evading I Giallorossi’s defenders. Instead of going for his hat-trick, the Chilean had spotted Ronaldo in a better position and played a simple pass to him, with the Brazilian striking the ball behind past a woeful Konsel.
Inter held on to this 4-3 lead for over 20 minutes, before Roma’s Eusebio Di Francesco (who would go on to manage I Giallorossi to the Champions League semi-finals) scored the equalising goal. It would be Hodgson’s side that would ultimately come out on top though, with Baggio completing his hat-trick of assists after booting in a free-kick to Simeone, who headed home.
It was a much-needed victory for Inter, who, before this game, had won just once in ten matches. Unfortunately, it didn’t set a precedent for the rest of the season. I Nerazzurri won just one of their three remaining matches, and failed to beat Bologna in the UEFA Cup play-off, meaning they missed out on Europe.
Roma’s defeat and their subsequent failure to qualify for the Champions League meant Zeman was sacked at the end of the season, and they would go on to win the Scudetto two years later under his replacement, Fabio Capello.