Javier Zanetti’s last home match at the San Siro was celebrated with a win as Inter beat SS Lazio 4-1 to all but guarantee a UEFA Europa League berth from the Serie A on Saturday.
Zanetti is retiring after 19 seasons at Inter and the stadium was sold out as fans packed in to bid farewell to their 40-year-old captain.
Lazio threatened to spoil the party when Giuseppe Biava scored the opening goal inside two minutes to stun the San Siro, but Rodrigo Palacio scored twice, either side of Mauro Icardi’s strike, and Hernanes netted against his former club to secure the victory.
At the end of the match, footage was shown on the big screens of Zanetti’s greatest Inter moments and the clearly emotional player was led out by his family, peers and club presidents, with all his teammates wearing shirts with his No. 4 on them.
To chants of “there’s only one captain,” Zanetti took the microphone and thanked the fans and his teammates.
“I have always tried to honor and defend the Inter shirt in every country in the world,” he said. “I learned to love it thanks to you, I will love you forever. A very lovely career is coming to an end for me. I don’t know what I will do, but now one thing is certain — I will defend Inter even off the pitch.”
Players from across the globe also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Zanetti, including former teammate Mario Balotelli, who wrote: “Javier Zanetti is an example of humanity and professionalism for all of us.”
Inter have five points more than Torino, and six more than Parma and AC Milan, who all had two matches remaining. They are the same number of points above Hellas Verona, who squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to Udinese following a superb goal from Antonio di Natale.
Hellas Verona and Inter have only one match remaining.
Inter coach Walter Mazzarri was resoundly booed before kickoff when it was revealed Zanetti was starting on the bench.
The 20-year-old Mateo Kovacic — who was less than four months old when Zanetti made his Inter debut — set up two of the goals with delightful through-balls.
The Inter players hugged Zanetti after every goal and the Argentine was eventually sent on seven minutes into the second half to a raucous standing ovation.
Zanetti was wearing a special captain’s armband for the occasion. It had the words “Zanetti 4 Ever” in large letters over a background with the name of all his Inter teammates past and present.
In Verona, substitute Badu came off the bench with minutes left and drilled in a stoppage-time equalizer for Udinese with a low shot into the corner.
Luca Toni put Hellas Verona in front from the penalty spot in the 14th minute after Alessandro Agostini was tripped by Allan. It was the veteran striker’s 20th league goal of the season.
Emil Hallfredsson doubled Hellas Verona’s lead in the 54th minute, before Di Natale pulled one back two minutes later in stunning fashion.
The Udinese forward controlled the ball with his back to goal and swiveled to fire a volley under the bar with his second touch for his 190th Serie A goal.