Date: August 18 2011
Place: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
The draw gave Lazio one of the on paper weaker opponents; FK Rabotnički of Skopje, Macedonia, should pose a minor problem for the capital side in the last knock-out round before the group stage begins.
Lazio, one of the seeded teams in the draw, will start at home and welcome the Republic of Macedonian team to the first competitive game in Rome this season. The visitors, having played three league games so far this season, has the upper hand in the sense that the players should be physically ready for 90 minutes of competitive football by now, but with both regular central defenders out due to injury, and the third option suspended due to consecutive yellow cards, an already tough task looks even tougher. The pairing of Najdoski and Lazarevski in the central defence is more or less untested, and Macedonian media reports the aim will be to play a defensive game where avoiding conceding goals will be the main priority. The main threat in attack, the league’s joint top scorer Filip Petkovski, is the one to look out for as he comes from scoring a brace against the defending champions Shkendija in the 3-1 win for Rabotnički.
Other than that, it is worth mentioning that the Macedonians have already knocked out three teams on their way to the last qualifying round: Narva Trans from Estonia were eliminated in the first round (7-1 over the two games), Juvenes/Dogana of San Marino in the second (4-0) and the previous round saw the fourth place finisher of last season in the domestic league overcome Anorthosis of Famagusta, Cyprus (3-2). In the 2010/2011 Europa League the team faced Liverpool, England, in the third qualifying round and the Merseyside team advanced after two 2-0 wins, and since the 2005/2006 season the team has participated in either Champions League or UEFA Cup/Europa League qualifiers every season, but never managed to advance to the group stage of any of the tournaments. Despite the frequent games in the European competitions, which could be seen as crucial in adding experience to the team, Lazio will probably face a team consisting of players that are young and relatively untested, as 22 out of 31 squad members are born in the 1990’s.
For the Romans the season kicks-off with this crucial game, as the domestic season is yet to start. After having played a few friendly games during the summer, with a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad being the latest, the team is yet to get a real character. Coach Edoardo Reja has been experimenting with both formation and players, and many are worried for the level of fitness as well as the level of understanding on the pitch between different team members. With Konko on the injury list the dilemma on how to structure the defending line persists, and in attack Mauro Zarate is set to miss the match – officially due to having caught the flu, but many claim it is a way to keep the player away from being cup-tied as the Argentinean is rumoured to be one of the players that might be heading out of Lazio before the end of the summer transfer market. Overall the fact that Lazio have a lot more players than the 26-27 that the coach has stated he wants to have at his disposal has meant many players are yet to get enough playing time in the friendlies to be ready for the competitive games, of which Rabotnički is the first.
4-2-3-1 is the formation that Reja will most probably use this season, or at least in the first game, as other formations have more or less failed in the friendly games. The stubborn tactician has also been very clear about what he thinks about the attacking line; new signings Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose are the preferred options in attack, while prolific players such as Rocchi and Zarate are seen as back-ups. Giuseppe Sculli has been very impressive during training sessions as well as in the friendly games, and is seen by many experts as the one who will be closest to break the preferred duo.
Lazio: Marchetti, Scaloni, Biava, Dias, Radu, Brocchi, Ledesma, Cisse, Hernanes, Mauri, Klose.
Rabotnički: Dimitrievski, Gligorov, Najdoski, Lazarevski, Mitrevski, Nastevski, Manevski, Vujcic, Petrovik, Petkovski, Velkoski.