From: Riffster 
Subject:Baggio Baggino - Real Champions Win Our Hearts
Date:06 February 2002 04:47

I have one favorite memory of Roberto Baggio - it was
in the 1999-2000 season in Champion's League play with
Real Madrid playing in San Siro.

I had stayed home to watch it live on ESPN the game and
was huddled in front of the set wondering what in hell was
lying in wait for Inter after having absorbed a most humliating
2-0 defeat at the hand of the Madrilenos in the first leg in
the Bernabeu.

The score gave no indication of how weakly and timidly
Inter played in the game. Sure, Inter was badly hobbled
by injuries - no Ronaldo or Baggio and several other
important starters were out. But this game was a Bataan
Death March, a Waterloo, an Antietam - the Nerazzurri
were slaughtered on the pitch, if not totally on the score-

Very bad memories of that game......

A very shakey Silvestre gave me heart attacks whenever he
attempted the offsides trap. And Salvatore Fresi was in the
defense (the seemingly forgotten, kinder, more incompetent
Toto Fresi, not the one who is impressing with Bologna today.)
Ivan "Bam-Bam" Zamorano left almost isolated up front on
attack. Aron Winter trying to be a creator! Argh..

Inter barely dented the midfield and, with the exception of
a couple of Ivan Zamorano attempts, rarely forced Bodo
Ilgner to wake from his gametime nap.

It was humiliating - in over thirty years of being Interista
I have seen no game, regardless of score, where Inter
played so frightened. Inter has played everywhere, in-
cluding the Bernarbeu, before and not shown anywhere
near the timidness they did in this match. They made Savio
look like Jairzinho, and Seedorf like Matthaus. It took
some miracles by Pagliuca and a woeful Morientes for Inter
to not be as thoroughly beaten on the scoreboard as they
were in possession, shots, and corner kicks.

Does that set the stage for the second leg?

Inter needed a win to assure passage to the next round.
Ronaldo and Baggio were back, but neither was 100%.
Nevertheless it was Ronaldo who made the move to
open the scoring when he got away from Campo and
Roberto Carlos and fired a long rocket that deflected
off of Zamorano, wrong-footing Ilgner and putting Inter
up 1-0 early in the second half.

Inter had several opportunities thereafter, primary amongst
them a trademark Ronaldo full-field sprint (complete with
Roberto Carlos trailing him all the way like a puppy chasing
a mail truck) at the end of which Ronaldo crossed perfectly
to Beppe Bergomi (bless the Zio's heart - at his age he was
the ONLY Inter player who sprinted with Ronaldo) who
volleyed perfectly at the goal. However, Ilgner made an instinct
save to keep a legendary score from happening.

As soccer goes then the inevitable happened - Real,
who had mostly played to control tempo, began to
make some threatening moves at Pagliuca's goal. Inter's
nemesis from the first game, Savio, and Clarence
Seedorf, were the prime troublemakers. Again Morientes
was conspicuous largely by his absence from building any
real threat of his own.

With little more than a half hour remaining pesky Savio
got free one time too many on the left flank and crossed
perfectly to an onrushing Seedorf, who outsprinted
Paulo Sousa to the near post (don't ask me why Inter
thought Sousa could mark Seedorf in such a situation)
and the Dutchman emphatically nodded in the tying goal.

Of course then the substitutions happened - Cauet and
Baggio came into the game. Cauet to win some more balls
and Baggio - well, to be Roberto Baggio!

And he did not fail to deliver on this as we shall see.

Diego Simeone, for all his gamesmanship, was as usual,
giving his all for the team, winning ball after ball. He now
had a dangerous target for his attempts to put a teammate
in alone on Ilgner. But Baggio was closely marked and
spent his first several minutes on the pitch picking himself off
the San Siro grass after legal (and some not-so-legal)
physical challenges.

The capacity crowd was starting to become restless, but
the presence of Baggio kept the fans mostly cheering instead
of whistling (a positive effect the entry of the Divine Ponytail
had on some otherwise lamentable games.) Simeone, Cauet
and Bergomi ran around like madmen looking for the chance
to put a teammate through on goal.

In the next twenty minutes the crowd of 70000 plus built
in noise and intensity. Finally it was Bergomi pushing the ball
up the left side where he passed to Cauet who then passed to
Simeone who rushed towards the area, passing the ball
to Baggio and receiving it back. El Cholo couldn't get the
time to get off a good shot and under heavy pressure, managed
to find Roby open (maybe more through providence than
providance) in the middle of the area as Campo sprawled
helplessly in an attempt to stop the final pass.

You could hear a gigantic gasp from the crowd as the little
man with the impossibly long shirtail broke alone deep into
the Real penalty area. Baggio had the entire goal to shoot at
with Ilgner frozen on the line.

He didn't hit the most powerful of shots, topping the ball
a bit too much. But he directed it well and to the right of Ilgner,
outside of the big keeper's reach but well within the span
of the posts.


A huge roar rose from tens of thousands of Interista throats
as Baggio wheeled away towards the flag, whipping off
his jersey and diving to the ground underneath a mass of
celebrating teammates from the bench and pitch. To say
that the crowd in the stands was ecstatic was to be most
reserved in description. An unforgettable sight (one that
Fox Sports still uses to this day in highlights) was of an
Inter fan passionately yelling and saluting Baggio and repeating
this in almost Pavarotti-like fashion several times.

A rush to the front rows began (a la Bombonera) and fan
tumbled over each other in joy and near spasmodic ecstasy.

Not only was Inter AHEAD, not only were they ahead in
the CHAMPION'S LEAGUE, and not only were they
ahead of hated REAL MADRID in the Champion's League,
but Baggio Baggino, il Divin' Codin', the Hunter-Buddhist,
go-ahead goal.

I am not too ashamed to say that I pretty much emulated that
one man in the stands, standing up and punching the air and
shouting in the deserted workday afternoon of the apartment
complex I lived in at the time.

Baggio looked equally moved himself - he has seen a lot of
things in his career as a soccer player but I think he will
remember this moment for a long time - he looked almost
transported by his fierce joy at the score. He received a yellow
for his removal of the jersey (what a killjoy referee! :) which
only earned him more delirious cheers and shouts of praise
from the equally transported throng.

A quick aside - I remember Andrea Pirlo running back and
forth like a schoolboy told he was free for summer break
after a long week of exams. His expression was one of complete
and total joy and relief - I have never seen a soccer player so
competely and utterly enthralled by the exploits of another.
This was the kind of effect Roberto Baggio had on his fans,
his teammates, on Italians in general,  and on true lovers of the
game of soccer.

After the pile of Inter players and trainers was disentangled,
it was barely a couple minutes until Baggio found himself put
through alone on Bodo Ilgner by a clever Simeone through
pass. Roby had to wait a moment for the ball to catch up to
him, and in that moment a desperately onrushing Campo
clattered into him, trying at the same time to make it look like
an attempt to shield the ball from the Inter player.

At the same time Ilgner rushed out and the diminutive Baggio
was almost sandwiched between the two large Real players,
he ended up with Ilgner on his chest on Campo on one leg,
still trying gamely to move the ball towards the goal with his
one free leg.

All this happened in full view of the official, clearly inside
the penalty area, and the whistle remained silent.

The howling and protests from the infuriated home crowd
had barely calmed down a few minutes later when Simeone
took a poor clearing attempt by Real's defense and one-timed
a perfect thirty meter pass to Baggio, who had perfectly timed
his own break to goal.

This time Campo had no hope of catching Baggio and Ilgner
was caught in a nightmarish No Man's Land with Roberto
alone and rushing at him full speed with the ball seemingly tied
to his feet with string.

Again, the huge gasp and intake of breath by all those souls
in the stands and a rumbling roar began as Baggio swept in
on the vainly charging Ilgner, only to easily juke to the left
and push his second goal in 10 minutes almost insolently into
the back of the Real Madrid net.


This time Roby ended up in the netting of the goal, with every
Inter player including Ronaldo hugging him joyously (it should
be noted that Ronaldo never regarded Baggio with any jealousy
nor was that jealousy ever reciprocated.)

Javier Zanetti attempted to embrace the entire big group in a huge
hug. And this time there was no danger of a second yellow
because Baggio had been unable to move his arms to remove
his shirt.

A minute or so later the game ended with a score of 3-1, courtesy
of some hard work by Simeone, Cauet, Bergomi and others; but
mostly because of the magical presence of Roberto Baggio.

When most people talk of Baggio they talk of that ill-fated penalty
kick in the 94 final, or of his crucial goals in the games leading up
to that clash with Brasil, or of a goal for Juve or Bologna or Milan.

I remember him for that look of childish wonderment and fierce
pride after that first goal. I remember him for the obvious respect
and affection his teammates had for him. I remember him for the
joy he gave me in watching a great soccer player do what he
does best.

Grazie Roberto - sei un campione.

- Riff "The real champions win our hearts" Ster