Serie A

When the Ronaldo non-penalty caused a national scandal - Serie A in 1997/98

5:00pm on Thursday 26th March 2020
By
Mark Doyle | Italian Football Expert

The 1997-98 Scudetto race effectively came down to one game in Turin on 26 April, 1998 between Juventus and Inter. The hosts triumphed 1-0 thanks to a goal from Alessandro Del Piero but that was not even half the story. Ronaldo had been denied what many felt was a clear penalty when he was body-checked in the area by Mark Iuliano, sparking a debate that still rages today.

However, putting the controversy to one side for a moment, Juve were undeniably an excellent team; arguably the best in the world at the time.

While Del Piero and new striking sensation Filippo Inzaghi never saw eye to eye, they still formed a formidable partnership up front, helped in so small part by the genius of Zinedine Zidane in midfield. Captain Antonio Conte and Didier Deschamps got through an incredible amount of work in the engine room, while Ciro Ferrara was the cornerstone of brilliant and sometimes brutal backline.

In truth, they should also have conquered Europe too but they were upset by a weak Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Still, beating great rivals Inter to the Scudetto offered some solace, not least because the manner of their triumph hurt the Nerazzurri so badly.

CHANGES

The story of the summer was Inter's record-breaking acquisition of Ronaldo from Barcelona for €28 million. However, there were several other notable arrivals, chief among them Ajax starlet Patrick Kluivert, who joined AC Milan two years after scoring the goal that defeated the Rossoneri in the Champions League final.

Elsewhere, Roberto Baggio was a player reborn after leaving Milan for Bologna, while the aforementioned Inzaghi maintained his impressive goalscoring form after joining Juve from Atalanta.

In terms of changes on the bench, Milan desperately turned to former coach Fabio Capello in the hope of bouncing back from a miserable 1996-97 campaign but he was sacked after a dismal 10th-placed finish.

Lazio pulled off a major coup by persuading Blackburn Rovers target Sven-Goran Eriksson to move to the Stadio Olimpico rather than Ewood Park, while Zdenek Zeman reinvigorated Roma with his scintillating brand of attacking football.

SEASON SUMMARY

The opening weekend was all about Ronaldo's debut for Inter at San Siro, against Brescia, but the Brazil striker was completely upstaged by a relatively unknown summer signing, Alvaro Recoba, who came off the bench to win the game for the hosts with two sensational strikes.

However, Ronaldo opened his account in his very next outing, away to Bologna, and would quickly earn the nickname 'Il Fenomeno' from an adoring Italian press, as he carried Inter's bid for a first Scudetto since 1989.

Indeed, the Nerazzurri made the early running, going undefeated until a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at Udinese in December, with Oliver Bierhoff scoring an injury-time winner for the home side.

The German striker would end the season as Serie A's top scorer, with his 27 goals playing a pivotal role in Alberto Zaccheroni's fine side qualifying for the UEFA Cup via third-placed finish.

Parma were a big disappointment and Carlo Ancelotti paid with his job at the end of the season but that was nothing to compared to Napoli, who were relegated to Serie B, the almost inevitable result of years of financial mismanagement.

Still, it was superstar duo Ronaldo and Del Piero who dominated the headlines throughout the season. Their first showdown went in favour of the South American, who teed up Youri Djorkaeff for the only goal of their January 4 meeting at San Siro.

Serie A Player of the Year, Ronaldo

That victory gave Inter a four-point advantage over their title rivals but they would lose four of their next 10 games, meaning that in spite of a six-game winning streak across March and April, they trailed Juve by a point going into their ‘title-decider’ in Turin.

Del Piero's opener midway through the first half, thus, left the Nerazzurri in major trouble. However, in the 67th minute, the ball broke for Ronaldo in the area and he took a touch before being felled by Iuliano.

Referee Pietro Ceccarini waved away Inter's protests, believing that the Inter attacker had initiated the contact, but then, seconds later, he awarded Juve a spot-kick after Del Piero had tangled with Taribo West in the Inter area.

Del Piero missed the penalty but Inter were furious. Indeed Inter coach Gigi Simoni remains convinced that the Nerazzurri had been the victim of a conspiracy, a belief only strengthened by Juve's later involvement in the 2006 Calciopoli refereeing scandal.

The Bianconeri went on to win the Scudetto by five points but, for most observers, the penalty incident decided the league, even provoking heated exchanges in the Italian parliament.

AWARDS

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

RONALDO

The Brazilian striker was utterly spellbinding, a player at the very peak of his unique powers before being broken down by injuries later in his career.

MANAGER OF THE SEASON

MARCELLO LIPPI

The Juve coach picked up the award for the second year in a row after successfully retaining the Scudetto, not to mention leading the Old Lady out in a third consecutive Champions League final.

TOP GOALSCORER

OLIVER BIERHOFF - 27 GOALS

There was no stopping the German striker, who struck a staggering 27 times in just 32 appearances.

GOAL OF THE SEASON

There were some spectacular strikes from Gabriel Batistuta and Alvaro Recoba but our favourite goal was ALEN BOKSIC'S sublime chip on matchday eight, which came after the Lazio striker had deftly beaten two Sampdoria players in midfield.

MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER

Ronaldo

Barcelona to Inter

€28m

KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON

It can't be anything other than Ceccarini's penalty call, which is, rightly or wrongly, regarded as one of the most infamous decisions in Serie A history. As Simoni recently said, VAR could have made a difference but "it'll never return that Scudetto."

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