In 1999 Villa Park hosted the 39th Cup Winners Cup final, it was to be the final edition of the European knockout tournament before it was consumed into the UEFA cup. The final final was contested by Lazio and R.C.D. Mallorca, the two sides had battled their way through four rounds of two legged ties before reaching the final. Lazio beating Lausanne (3-3 away goals), FK Partizan (3-2 agg), Panionios (7-0) and Lokomotiv Moscow (1-1 away goals). Mallorca stopped Chelsea reaching the final, beating the blues 0-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Lazio won the game 2-1 and took the trophy but anyone who saw the game would have been forgiven for thinking that Mallorca had been mugged. Lazio’s style of play was very stereotypical of their manager. Sven-Goran Eriksson favoured a very rigid 4-4-2, the emphasis was on maintaining shape defensively looking to break as quickly as possible to catch teams on the counter attack. The first goal was indicative of this tactic, the ball was simply played long toward Vieri and Salas who were stationed some 40-50 yards up the pitch from the central midfielders. Christian Vieri used all of his strength to rise above Siviero and put a looping header in at the far post.
The constant distance between the strikers and midfielders remained 40-50 yards whenever Lazio had the ball, this was indicative of how the game was panning out in the first half and how Lazio were setting their stall out. The vast majority of their link up play was left to the central midfield pairing to produce. Roberto Mancini and Hugo Almeyda spent their time on the pitch with a 10 yard piece of elastic between them. They shuffled up and down the pitch as a unit to attempt to get to the strikers, Almeyda was a shade more defensive than Mancini. Link up play with the wingers was very rare, it was all about straight line play.
Mallorca on the other hand were the complete anti-thesis of straight line play, they were holding possession and playing triangles around the Lazio players. This was facilitated by the midfield diamond deployed by coach, Hector Cuper. Engonga sat at the base of the diamond and swept up any second balls that came from the Lazio counter attacks. Whilst Lauren and Stankovic went from inside to out and provided plenty of width, constantly finding themselves in plenty of space to run at the Lazio full backs or link up with Ibagaza in the hole or the strikers, Dani and Biagini. Mallorca were playing better football for the first hour of the match but were struggling to break through Nesta and Mihajlovic at the heart of the Lazio defence.
The game changed when Eriksson brought on right winger Sergio Conceicao for Stankovic. Within 10 minutes of being on the pitch the Lazio players had finally worked out how to get the ball out to their wingers who were finding space to cut inside as well as go to the by line and deliver crosses across the box. The winning goal came in the 81st minute when Vieri and Siviero went up for a 50-50 header and the ball dropped to the young Pavel Nedved, the Czech winger had cut inside and found himself at the right place at the right time to deliver a roundhouse kick that would see the ball nestling into the bottom corner of the net.
Whilst Mallorca started the game as the stronger of the two sides, dominating for the greater portion of the playing time, their inability to find a breakthrough and their lack of concentration in the final 15 minutes cost them. There is also the question of whether the Spaniards had run out of steam and the Romans superior fitness had carried them through to win the trophy.
For Lazio this was in many ways the beginning of the end, they would go on to win the 1999-00 Scudetto but they soon were on the brink of being wound up after running up over €100m of debt under Eriksson, many of the players bought for huge sums, such as Hernan Crespo, were released for peanuts just a few years later.