At the turn of the century the Scudetto races where nail-biting affairs. It started with AS Roma winning their third Serie A title ever, ahead of second-placed Juventus by two points.
This was then followed by a phenomenal title race in the 2001-2002 season where the winners Juventus were separated from the contenders AS Roma and Inter by one point each.
The following season, 2002/2003 Inter strengthened their squad heavily despite losing Ronaldo following his polarizing transfer to Real Madrid in the summer. Adding the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo in the summer, the Nerazzurri went into the season with a lot of promise to mount yet another title run to end the thirteen-year Scudetto drought.
Attacking wise the partnership of Crespo and Vieri was tantalizing. Vieri enjoyed success in domestic competition while Crespo led the attack in Champions League matches.
However, the partnership suffered when Crespo picked up an injury in January of 2003. The Nerazzurri were quick to take action and acquired Gabriel Batistuta on loan from AS Roma. Going into the round 19 away match against Torino, Batistuta was still looking for his first goal with the Nerazzurri and was slowly but surely starting to establish an understanding with Vieri and Recoba.
Despite coming into the game winning five out of their last seven matches, the recent loss away at Perugia was still fresh in the memory of the Nerazzurri who were eager to make a statement of intent by securing three crucial points to stay within striking distance of the Scudetto contenders.
Hector Cuper’s starting eleven had Francesco Toldo in goal with a defensive back-four of Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi, Fabio Cannavaro, and Giovanni Pasquale. The midfield quartet consisted of Cristiano Zanetti, Emre Belozoglu, Okan Buruk, and Alvaro Recoba. Up front the dynamic duo of Gabriel Batistuta and Cristian Vieri led the attack.
Torino’s starting line-up consisted off, Bucci, Delli Carri, Fattori, Mezzano, Comotto, Conticchio, Donati, Castellini, Sommese, Magallanes, Franco.
The first half started with constant end-to-end action from both sides. Inter retained the majority of possession while Torino were restricted to playing strictly on the counter-attack and testing Toldo from long-range frequently. There was no shortage of scoring opportunities, however, Torino came close to getting on the scoring sheet.
A finger-tip save from Toldo ricocheted the ball off the bar. Inter’s fullbacks took every opportunity to make runs into the box to provide width to the attack and play-in a searching cross for Batistuta and Vieri.
The second half began with neither side making any changes. Inter kept the foot on the gas-pedal to look for the all-important first goal. As the game went on, the Nerazzurri attack was starting to gain momentum and creating more chances for the attacking duo up-front.
Around the 48th minute, a howler from Bucci led to a turnover at the edge of the Torino penalty box. Batistuta leaped at the opportunity to recover and played a brilliant cross into the box for Vieri to make a tap-in for Inter’s first goal of the match.
Having conceded at home despite playing a defensively disciplined match thus far, Torino weren’t phased by the deficit and were growing in confidence going forward. With their wide men cutting inside the box to overload the Nerazzurri defenses, scoring opportunities were starting to come more frequently.
However, Cuper’s men kept a clean sheet and were able to parry away all scoring chances. The roles seemed to have reversed with Torino retaining possession and Inter playing on the counterattack and relying on the blistering pace of Vieri and Batistuta up top leading the charge.
Less than ten minutes after the first goal, Inter scored a second from another turn-over caused by Pasquale at the edge of the box, allowing Recoba to recover the ball and brilliantly dribble past two defenders to deliver a cross inside the box for Okan Buruk to tap-in an easy shot from point-blank range.
Torino used all three substitutions to bring on fresh players to reinforce their attack, however, they did not manage to crack the Nerazzurri defense. Cuper instead, had identified Torino’s weakness of an inability to defend low crosses, and started exploiting that with darting runs forward from Zanetti and Pasquale.
This created a plethora of scoring opportunities for Batigol, however, he was unable to find the net and the match ended with a 2-0 Inter win which allowed the team to remain in first place ahead of AS Roma and Juventus.