The Night Siniša Mihajlović’s Hattrick Of Free-kicks Sunk Sampdoria

MAX LOMBARDIA | 28th April 2020

The sign of a great game is when you can remember exactly where you were when it happened. Great games leave a lasting impression and it doesn’t always have to be a derby or a cup final to have you reminiscing about certain moments or players. In the 90’s, Serie A was arguably the best league in the world which is why there’s no surprise that many memories and moments would take shape from some of the legendary battles that took place in Italy. A game etched into Serie A history as well as the record books of the beautiful game would be the European qualifying battle that took place on the 13th of December 1998 between Lazio and Sampdoria at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Lazio were looking for redemption and an entry into the elite European stages once again, whilst Sampdoria were trying to rekindle the success that had seen them lift the scudetto in 1991 with the great Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini as the leading lights in a season where they proved to be the obvious surprise package.

In the next few seasons, Lazio were to become Serie A and UEFA Cup champions under Sven-Göran Eriksson as he pieced together tactical masterclasses during his time as gaffer and a team full of absolute superstars such as Pavel Nedvěd, Alessandro Nesta, Dejan Stanković and Juan Sebastián Verón. A team that the laziale still haven’t been able to replicate ever since.

The scene was set, and Lazio entered this game as the favorites. Amidst all the build-up and chatter about such a huge game, what no one could have predicted is that this game was to have one of the best individual performances by a player in Serie A history. Siniša Mihajlović had recently transferred from Sampdoria to Lazio and in what was his first game against his former employers, he clearly had a point to prove. 

Siniša was a very tough and meticulous centre-back, well-capable of organizing a defence and a natural leader. The Serbian could easily be mistaken for a central midfielder or even a regista because of his exceptional footwork and ability to read the game but where he really excelled were set pieces and in particular, freekicks. Mihajlović had the right balance between power and accuracy and using his left-foot, the man was lethal from outside the box. It’s to no one’s surprise that he holds the record for the most freekicks scored in Serie A at 28 along with a certain Andrea Pirlo.

This particular game lives long in the memory of any Serie A fan bursting with pride at the league’s dominance during Italy’s golden era  because of the fluidity of the attacking football on show, the endless counter-attacks that started from last ditch defending as the game looked like beautiful chaos at times. This game is Serie A’s finest marketing campaign for the 90’s, a game that fans that pledge allegiance to other leagues may be unaware of as it finished in a bonkers 5-2 win for Lazio and included a hattrick of freekicks from Siniša Mihajlović and two penalties won and scored by Sampdoria. A set piece masterclass that oozed enough class and epitomized instant iconic status that those who witnessed the tie knew it would be watched over and over again for decades.

The tactical defending of Italian teams in the past has always led to low scoring games, giving the impression of chess games with each team waiting to pounce on any small mistake made by their opponents. The 90 minutes that transpired between these two sides were anything but that.

In this game, Sampdoria’s reliance on tactical fouls outside the box proved to be their downfall as Lazio were constantly pressing the Genovese. Mancini leading the attack along with Marcelo Sala lead the line excellently and made life miserable for the opposition’s defence. Unable to soak up the pressure of the counter attacking football on display by Lazio, they gave away two free-kicks in the first half. These free-kicks were both placed slightly to the left and about 2 meters from the edge of box. It almost seemed like destiny was rooting for Mihajlović to sink Sampdoria to defeat.

As he took two almost identical free-kicks, struck with the ferocity of a sniper from distance, they looped over the wall and into the right-side of the net, beating Fabrizio Ferroni who couldn’t do a thing about it, despite seeing the Serb pull off such blinders in training in the past. Siniša Mihajlović had stunned La Samp and immediately written his name into Lazio folklore.

If the game were to stop, regardless of the result, Mihajlović would be considered as a hero for his free-kick brace. But he wasn’t done yet. The imposing centre-half added a third freekick to his tally in the 52nd minute, this time from much further out and into the top corner to round off a hattrick of free-kicks and in astounding fashion as the third was the best of the lot.

However, this game was more than just about Siniša’s excellence over a dead ball. It was about the passion the players showed when trying to defend, throwing themselves into challenges to hold on to the lead which ultimately turned out to be the flaw in not only Sampdoria’s plan but also Lazio’s as they gave away two penalties in this game which Francesco Palmieri scored after reckless last minute tackling. Of course, no one wants to see players injured but when it was all on the line, pulsating battles between teams is what made Serie A what it was.

Mihajlović’s hattrick of free-kicks which ultimately put this game up there with one of the best as well as cementing the Serb’s legacy as a true free-kick connoisseur.

A hammer of a left foot

An underrated set-piece specialist Mihajlović’s affinity for free-kicks was such that hasn’t ever been revealed by other geniuses of what is one of football’s true art forms.
“I played football for the free-kicks. I didn’t like football all that much, but the free-kicks were great. For me, that is football. If there hadn’t been that, I might not have played.”

The Serb has gone on to become a manager and has been at the helm of no less than 10 teams including his national side, Serbia. He was seen in his Torino days, practicing set pieces at the age of 48 against the Torino goalkeepers and we’re sure he’s still got it.

Siniša Mihajlović has been part of a different battle in recent years, this time off the pitch as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019. Despite undergoing a life-threatening battle, in typical Mihajlović fashion, he continued to work. 

The expert defender exemplified brute and brawn during his heyday as a player and has gone on to be cut from the same cloth on the touchline. While his current spell at Bologna looks like it’s only headed to the top since his arrival, one thing we’re more sure of is that when he returned to Sampdoria as a manager, déjà vu must’ve kicked in for the fans that saw the man batter their side in what was a game of bizarre brilliance from Siniša Mihajlović.

Certified legend.