Inter started the 97/98 season with a new manager in Luigi Simoni being in charge, following the departure of Roy Hodgson in the summer. To reinforce the team, Inter added star power with purchases of Francesco Moriero, Alvaro Recoba, Diego Simeone and a certain Brazilian striker named Ronaldo. Leading up to the much anticipated third round match against Gabriel Batistuta led Fiorentina, Inter hit the ground running to start their new campaign, with Recoba getting a debut double to beat Brescia and the Ronaldo Zamorano partnership leading the team past a Roberto Baggio led Bologna in the first two matches respectively.
Coming off a disappointing season the year before, Fiorentina started their season with Batistuta carrying the team on his back and leading the charge, scoring five out of teams’ six goals in first two games getting a hattrick and a brace. With both teams looking to continue their strong start to the season, San Siro was buzzing with excitement!
Simoni had the Nerazzurri lined up in a 4-5-1 formation with Gianluca Pagliuca in goal, Giuseppe Bergomi, Fabio Galante, Taribo West and Luca Mezzano in defense. Javier Zanetti, Youri Djorkaeff, Salvatore Fresi, Diego Simeone and Maurizio Ganz in the midfield and Ronaldo as the lone striker. On the other end, Alberto Malesani had Fiorentina set up in with a three-man defense of Andrea Tarozzi, Aldo Firicano and Giulio Falcone in front of goal keeper Francesco Toldo. In the midfield for Viola were, Andrei Kanchelskis, Sandro Cois, Rui Costa, Michele Serena and the attacking trident of Anselmo Robbiati, Gabriel Batistuta and Luis Oliveira to complete the 3-4-3 formation.
As the game kicked-off, both teams were wary of the looming threat posed by Ronaldo and Batistuta alike, as they took a cautious and methodical approach to their offense. Slowly building up the play from the back and attacking from the wings on either side and playing the occasional long ball to find their start strikers beating the high defensive line.
It was Viola who came close to scoring first when Kanchelskis received a longball from the midfield and got in behind Taribo West on the right wing, making the run forward and passed the ball towards the center of the box where Batistuta received it unmarked and struck it on the volley, beat Pagliuca but got denied by the crossbar to keep the score level at 0-0.
Inter were continuously trying to find ways to get the ball to Ronaldo who seemed unstoppable at times, running at Fiorentina defense dribbling past as many defenders as possible. Viola were doing everything they could to prevent him from getting open, often having no other option but to foul him to prevent him from getting a shot on goal.
Both teams were fighting for possession, playing methodically, yet physically. On one such occasion, Kanchelskis was stretchered off due to an injury resulting from a hard tackle by West, resulting in Malesani making a substitution and bringing on Stefano Bettarini. Taribo West was very lucky to only get a yellow card for a two-legged hard tackle that injured a player and missed the ball completely. With the half time approaching, both teams seemed to be going towards the interval at 0-0.
However Ronaldo managed to break the deadlock right before half-time, when Simeone caught Fiorentina defense off guard and played a perfectly weighted through-ball to Ronaldo between the two center backs. The ball rolled past Toldo and into the net to give Inter a 1-0 lead. However, Inter were not ahead for long, as play resumed, Fiorentina played the ball toward the right wing for Oliveira who passed the ball towards the edge of the box for Serena. Viola left-back received the ball and side stepped his defender to create enough room to unleash a left footed strike that beat Pagliuca and into the top left-hand corner of the goal, tying the game at 1-1 going into half-time.
When the play resumed in second half, Inter had replaced Maurizio Ganz on right wing with the new-comer Francesco Moriero. Fiorentina struck soon after the half way mark when, Mezzano turned the ball over in an attempt to pass the ball back to Pagliuca but only managed to play it straight to Batistuta who beat the two defenders to the ball and dribbled past the on rushing Pagliuca to score the goal on and empty net to give the visitors a 2-1 lead. Having already concede a goal due to sloppy play, Inter almost conceded a third goal after turning the ball over on the edge of the box yet again, this time by Taribo West. Batistuta intercepted the ball and tried to curve the ball past Pagliuca into the top right corner, however he was denied again by the post.
Fiorentina seemed in control of the match and were threatening to add to their lead with their captain in fine form. Inter continued searching for the equalizer and brought in reinforcement from the bench, as Zamorano replaced Simeone to give another weapon in attack. He made his presence felt immediately. Following a long goal kick and a pass from Ronaldo, Zamorano held off the defender and found Moriero running into the box after beating his man to get a shot on goal and placing the ball in the bottom left corner to tie the game 2-2 with only eighteen minutes left to play.
With both teams attacking on either end to find the winner, it seemed that a third goal for either team was on the cards. Oliveira came close to breaking the deadlock when he dribbled past two defenders inside the box to a point-blank shot but was denied by a brilliant reflex save by Pagliuca. As the game was coming to a close, Inter managed to find the winner at 81st minute mark when Djorkaeff had the ball bounce his way following a big deflection off a Batistuta. He received the ball in what seemed like an off-side position and with no Fiorentina defender around him, he only had Toldo to beat and he placed the ball in the bottom right corner. Referee had originally raised the offside flag, however the goal was allowed to stand because the deflected ball was considered a backward pass by a Viola player and hence couldn’t be ruled off-side.
Considering the physical nature of the game, tempers flared on both sides as the goal was allowed to stand. Fiorentina and Inter players both vehemently pleading their case to the referees. Game ended in a 3-2 win for Nerazzurri and the team continued their unbeaten start to the new season and were well on their way towards a scudetto push against the Bianconeri.