Europa League Classics: Lazio 0-3 Inter, 1998

We set the scene for a Ronaldo masterclass before you watch this stunning tie IN FULL on UEFA.tv.

Ronaldo's time in Italy was ultimately ravaged by injury but in his first season he was untouchable – as Lazio found out in the first ever one-off UEFA Cup final of 1998.

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Context

Ronaldo's elastico!
Ronaldo's elastico!

Runners-up 12 months before, Inter travelled to Paris for the final somewhat deflated after a draw with Piacenza the previous weekend had effectively ended their high hopes of a first Scudetto since 1989. For once the prolific Ronaldo, picking up where he had left off following his record move from Barcelona the previous summer, had been kept at bay.

A third UEFA Cup win in seven years would provide some comfort, though a Lazio side blessed with the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedvěd and Roberto Mancini were formidable opposition. A late-season collapse meant they would finish a distant seventh in Serie A but, on their day, they could beat anyone – as their Coppa Italia final success the week before proved.

Key players

Ronaldo One of the all-time greats, a forward who could strike fear into the best of defences. Still only 21, the Brazilian was at the peak of his powers in 1998: he scored 100 goals across 1996/97 and 1997/98. Incredible now; impossible back then.

Simeone watches back 1998 UEFA Cup final
Simeone watches back 1998 UEFA Cup final

Javier Zanetti An Argentinian whose blood ran black and blue during two decades at Inter. Zanetti was a marauding full-back in 1998 (he later migrated into midfield) and the UEFA Cup final gave him a first tilt at silverware – it would not be his last.

Pavel Nedvěd The blond Czech winger was only in his second season in Italy but was already the first name on the team sheet, allying goals to his all-round game; his coach Sven-Göran Eriksson said he was "atypical, totally complete".

What happened

The die was cast from the off. Luigi Simoni's Inter were ahead inside five minutes when Iván Zamorano struck and, with Ronaldo living up to his superhero nickname of 'O Fenômeno' (The Phenomenon), Lazio were chasing shadows for the rest of the evening. Ronaldo and Zamorano hit the woodwork, then on the hour mark Zanetti made it third time lucky with a beauty that went in off the bar.

Ten minutes later Inter had a third, a goal that was pure, unadulterated Ronaldo. With Lazio pressing high, the Brazilian latched on to a through ball, dropped the shoulder, rounded the keeper and tapped in. A red card for Nerazzurri defender Taribo West came too late for Lazio to capitalise, and they too ended with ten as substitute Matías Almeyda got himself sent off.

Taribo West and Ronaldo celebrate in Paris
Taribo West and Ronaldo celebrate in ParisBongarts/Getty Images

Reaction

Ronaldo, Inter forward: "We played very well and deserved the victory: we didn't make a mistake from first minute to last. I'm happy because this is my first trophy with Inter. It was great to win in Paris; I will return here with my national team and give my all to win the World Cup too."

Iván Zamorano, Inter forward: "I have played two UEFA Cup finals in as many years: I lost the first [against Schalke] but won the second. I'm the first Chilean player to lift a European trophy. The club needed a trophy like this."

Javier Zanetti, Inter defender: "I don't score often but when I do, usually they count. Tonight I scored the goal which allowed us to relax a bit. I dedicate this victory to my father, who came from Buenos Aires to watch."

Youri Djorkaeff, Inter playmaker: "We needed this after failing to win the Scudetto despite a great season. I think tonight everybody understood who Djorkaeff is. I sacrificed for the team, I did what the coach asked; for me that's as important as scoring a goal."

Ronaldo earns standing ovation
Ronaldo earns standing ovation

Aftermath

Ronaldo was back in Paris two months later for the FIFA World Cup final but this time there was no cause for celebration, the clearly unfit striker a shadow of the man who had lit up the tournament as a France side featuring Djorkaeff overwhelmed Brazil. Four injury-ravaged seasons followed for 'O Fenômeno' before he reconstructed his career at Real Madrid.

The 1998/99 campaign was a nadir for Inter too, their run to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals failing to paper over the cracks of a disastrous season – it was 2005 before the Nerazzurri added to their trophy cabinet. Lazio went the other way, lifting the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and finishing a point off top spot, before going one better in 1999/2000 with their second Scudetto.

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