Place: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.
Referee: Mike Dean
The final round of the group stage has turned into a more decisive issue than the biancocelesti faithful had hoped for, with the faith of Lazio not any longer being in the hands of the team itself.
To clarify the situation before the kickoff on Wednesday evening, Lazio and Romanian side Vaslui are tied on six points each but with the teams having played to draws between them it is the Romanian side that are superior as they managed a 2-2 draw in Rome, while the return ended 0-0. In effect this means that if Vaslui manage to match Lazio’s result on Wednesday the Romans will once again crash out as early as in the group stages of Europa League. A possible outcome that coach Reja had not foreseen as he proclaimed the finals as the goal for the team in this edition of the tournament.
Lazio welcome Sporting Clube de Portugal, commonly known as Sporting Lisbon, to Olimpico with the intentions to at least get a win and put some pressure on Vaslui to beat FC Zurich in Switzerland. The discussions have been frequent regarding which attitude Reja should approach this game with; should he play the full strength or should he rest players that have been playing frequently lately? With Udinese waiting on Sunday night, in a game crucial for the rest of the domestic campaign, one can argue that resting players would be the right way to go, while Lazio not being able to advance from a group on paper easy enough for the Italians would be a blow not only to the capital outfit but to the Italian football overall.
No matter which approach Reja chooses, he is faced with a number of crucial injuries that will keep him from being able to choose freely from the pool of available players. The probably most worrying injury at the moment, the one on the so far outstanding and point saving Marchetti, brought forward an unexpected problem. With all three goalies signed up for Europe League injured or having been injured up until recently, Lazio have been forced to use one of the many rules present in the UEFA-body and have now included Carrizo in the list of players for the competition. No doubt it felt strange seeing the once so awaited custodian replacing Marchetti in the away game to Lecce on Saturday, but for the coming weeks Carrizo will be found at the very back if Bizzari does not make it back on time. Added to Marchetti also Mauri, Konko, Brocchi, Matuzalem, Dias, Zauri, with a late decision being made on Biava, will be missing the crucial Sporting clash and Reja has plenty of thinking to do before the starting eleven will be chosen. From Formello the reports suggest that the 4-3-1-2 will be dropped in favour of 4-2-3-1 in order to make sure Lazio can perform at its very best in this game.
Sporting have been through to the next round for quite some time now, something that has brought the Portuguese giants to rotate the squad as well as testing new tactics and formations. Against Vaslui this resulted in an unexpected loss, FC Zurich were beaten quite easily. Fact is that Sporting have been struggling on the road and have only managed to win one game outside Portugal in the latest six attempts. Lazio, on the other hand, are unbeaten at home this Europa League season and against Portuguese opposition Lazio has never lost at home. When the teams faced each other earlier during the group stage Sporting showed stringer though, with a 2-1 win, despite being down to ten men and having to fight against a Lazio side desperate for a win.
Sporting coach Domingos Paciencia brought another Portuguese side, SC Braga, to the final of this tournament last season and is hoping to do the same this time. For him, and the rest of the travelling team, the game away to Lazio has no value for the future as the team is sure of ending first in the group table in case of any outcome. For Lazio it will be a game where one eye will be kept on the scoreboard and following the result in Zurich, while the other will be focused on doing whatever possible to get the crucial win. Destiny is no longer in the hands of Lazio, a situation that could have been avoided with some more effort having been put in during earlier games. It now remains to be seen whether Lazio can deliver a win when it is needed the most, and if the result between FC Zurich and Vaslui turns out in favour of the Italians.
Lazio: Bizzarri, Cavanda, Diakite, Biava, Radu, Cana, Ledesma, Cisse, Hernanes, Sculli, Rocchi.
Sporting Lisbon: Marcelo, Perreira, Polga, Onyewu, Insua, Carrico, Andre Martins, Schaars, Bojinov, Capel, van Wolfswinkel.