As the final matchday of the 1997/98 season approached, Inter prepared to take on Empoli at San Siro to wrap up a bittersweat season. After the controversial 1-0 loss at Juventus, the Scudetto was already in hands of the Old Lady.
However, Inter added another UEFA Cup to their cabinet after defeating Lazio 3-0 in the final in Paris and had planned pre-match celebrations before taking on Empoli.
After struggling in lower divisions for nine years, Empoli had finally earned promotion to Serie A for 1997/98 season. With current Inter manager, Luciano Spaletti in charge of Empoli, the Tuscan side had earned successive promotions from Serie C and Serie B before playing in Italy’s top flight after almost a decade long absence.
Going into the last match of the season, Empoli had already secured their spot in Serie A for the following season and were in fantastic form with their only loss in last four matches coming against Juventus and also included a 5-1 thrashing of Lecce in Tuscany.
Even though the Nerazzurri were enjoying their European glory, their league form since the controversial loss in Turin was disappointing. Following the Derby D’Italia loss, Inter had a 0-0 stalemate at home against then relegation battling Piacenza followed by a 2-1 loss away at Bari. Going into the final match day, the focus for Luigi Simoni’s side was on ending the season on a positive note and allow the team to celebrate the UEFA Cup win with the fans at San Siro.
Starting for Inter, were Gianluca Pagliuca, Fabio Galante, Salvatore Fresi, Francesco Colonnese, Mauro Milanese, Aron Winter, Benoit Cauet, Francesco Moriero, Paulo Sousa, Ronaldo and Alvaro Recoba. On the other end, Luciano Spaletti had Empoli’s starting line-up as, Giacomo Mazzi, Stefano Betella, Pietro Fusco, Stefano Bianconi, Pierpaolo Bisoli, Giorgio Lucenti, Alessandro Pane, Max Tonetto, Claudio Bonomi, Carmine Esposito and Massimiliano Cappellini.
Right from the start, Ronaldo’s threat was the focal point for the Nerazzurri in attack and also for Empoli in defense. Luigi Simoni’s gameplan revolved around Ronaldo as his teammates were instructed to create space for the talismanic Brazilian by either going over the top to catch a well-timed run or by crossing the ball towards the center of the box.
The attention he received from Empoli defense left other players often unmarked. The Nerazzurri’s tactics worked in favor of the home side as they jumped to an early 1-0 lead as Francesco Colonnese ran into the box unmarked and struck home Paulo Sousa’s cross from the left wing around the twenty-three-minute mark.
After conceding the goal, Empoli tried to score the equalizer and committed more players forward instead of playing strictly on the counter-attack. However in doing so, their sloppy build-up play resulted in consistent counter-attack opportunities for Inter and on one such occasion, a poor clearance from the Empoli defense trickled into their own net, giving the home side a comfortable 2-0 lead.
After play resumed in the second half, Inter continued to assault the Empoli defense. Ronaldo’s speed and physical presence was a constant threat for visitors and he was able to consistently get past the Empoli center-backs to create one-on-one opportunities, but, a series of acrobatic saves from Empoli goal-keeper Mazzi kept the score at 2-0.
Mazzi’s heroics failed to rejuvenate Empoli’s offense and things went from bad to worse as a handball foul gifted Inter a penalty kick which Ronaldo comfortably converted from the spot, giving his side 3-0 lead sixty-two minutes into the match.
As the game headed towards a lopsided finish, Empoli were not able to create in their offense. Ronaldo and Recoba connecting for the Nerazzurri when attacking continued to cause a lot of problems for the defense. Ten minutes after the third goal, Ronaldo completed his brace following a quick passing sequence outside the box to carve open Empoli defense yet again, taking the score to 4-0 with eighteen minutes remaining in the match.
Empoli were awarded a penalty kick which Cappellini converted from the spot to give visitors a consolation goal as the match ended 4-1 with Nerazzurri going out as winners and finished the season in second place, five points behind the Bianconeri and lot of optimism for another title push in the following season.
The post #NerazzurriClassics – When Ronaldo’s Brace Led Inter To A 4-1 Win Against Spalletti’s Empoli appeared first on Sempreinter.