On This Day in History: 2002

Six months and ten days have passed since Inter won the Champions League at Santiago Bernabeu. It was their first win in the tournament since the sixties, when Helenio Herrera's Inter for a brief moment took their coffee strong and went out to conquer European football. Their success in that decade helped phase out the crushing dominance of Real Madrid during the decade directly preceding it. Not since that team, led by revolutionary and transformative wingback Giacinto Facchetti, could an Italian club beat Real Madrid at their own stadium. Many great Italian editions of Italian teams came and went, but playing in Madrid seemed forever to be a bridge too far.

When Roma went there precisely eight years ago today, it was a club in full-on crisis mode that arrived. The season opening was gruelling pain only intermittently relieved by the short term fix isolated positive results provided. Nothing big, mind: a Totti hattrick in Brescia was overwhelmingly canceled out by losing at home to newly promoted Modena; a four goal trashing of Udinese was little comfort to only one Champions League victory in four tries before Madrid.

Once on place in Spain, muscle memory kicked in. Capello remembered doing what he actually does well, and shored up the defense. They were reminiscent of the testudo formation the way they committed to defending and helping each other out. Aldair, a mere month away from his 37th birthday, commanded the defense and received universal praise and acclaim. It was surreal and intoxicating.

Totti's goal, the game's sole, is exquisite. After a blocked Montella shot the ball fell to Totti, who had sought out an empty space without getting picked up by any midfielders or defenders. He hit it with one touch on a half volley, and managed to bend the ball away from Casillas' hands and as close to the post as was possible. The degree of difficulty involved in making that shot far surpasses my level of understanding, and even now I'm aware that I don't do it justice.

The game, memorable as it was, did not prove to be that game from sports movies (or Roma's 2009/10 season) which turned around a season and threw the team into contention. After the Madrid heroics, Roma would win only one game (against Como) for a month and a half, in all competitions. But this particular game is made no less significant or memorable because of what happened afterwards, it lives on its own.