S.S. Lazio coach Edoardo Reja has warned his players that Thursday's meeting with FC Zürich is a must-win game as the Italian side look to steal a march in the race for second spot in Group D.
Sporting Club de Portugal booked their place in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 with three games to spare a fortnight ago, leaving Lazio, Zürich and FC Vaslui to fight it out for the right to join them. The trio are level on two points, and while Vaslui have the ominous task of a halting the Sporting juggernaut, Lazio host Zürich with only one thing in mind.
"We have to win; there is no other option," said Reja. "
We worked very hard to qualify for the UEFA Europa League and we want to go on. The Europa League is a very important competition for us, but we haven't had any luck until now, especially against Zürich in Switzerland and Sporting. But after Sunday's [3-0] win at Cagliari Calcio, I'm sure we've found more cutting edge."
That victory kept Lazio third in Serie A, and despite an exacting run of fixtures Reja says he has no option but to play his strongest XI on matchday four, stressing the need for "players with lots of experience." Tommaso Rocchi, Djibril Cissé, Miroslav Klose and Lorik Cana can all expect to feature, but Hernanes is doubtful with an ankle knock. His absence would prompt a tactical reshuffle, switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2.
Zürich coach Urs Fischer has choices of his own, chiefly whether to restore Johnny Leoni in goal or plump for understudy Andrea Guatelli after the Italian's fine display in the 1-1 draw when these sides met a fortnight ago. He will keep any decision to himself, eager to eke out any advantage against a Lazio team blessed, he says, "with a lot of good players."
Confidence is growing after an upturn in domestic form, culminating in Sunday's 1-1 draw against an FC Luzern side that began the weekend top of the Swiss standings. Forward Admir Mehmedi, who hails from the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, underlined their new-found determination: "We've come to Rome for a win.
We're playing against a very good team but, let's be honest, they are not FC Barcelona. I respect them, but we have no reason to hide."
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