Having witnessed AC Milan surrender a first-leg lead on Tuesday, Vladimir Petković will warn his S.S. Lazio players of the pitfalls of a 2-0 advantage when they host out-of-form VfB Stuttgart in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 decider.
The Biancocelesti are on the brink of the quarter-finals following their victory, secured by goals from Ederson and Ogenyi Onazi, in southern Germany last week. That Stuttgart have also lost their last three games in all competitions, are languishing in 14th in the Bundesliga and have never won on Italian soil in five attempts points to the Rome side serenely taking their place in Friday's draw for the latter stages of the competition.
Petković, who on Sunday oversaw a 2-0 home loss to ACF Fiorentina, does not buy into such logic, though – he cites FC Barcelona's stirring 4-0 UEFA Champions League defeat of his team's Serie A rivals as proof that the tie is still alive.
"We haven't to think of the match in Stuttgart," said the 49-year-old, without the suspended Lorik Cana and André Dias (hamstring). "We have to play for victory, because the match between Barcelona and Milan showed that if you win a game 2-0 qualification is not assured. This has to be made clear."
Having stressed that point, it was no surprise to hear Petković say he is "not thinking about whether Lazio can reach the Europa League final". "We have to take things step by step," he added. "Firstly, we have to win to proceed in the competition. In the Europa League there are many strong and important teams, but unbeatable teams don't exist. What is clear is that we want to go far in the Europa League."
For Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia the second leg represents a chance to explore his family history – his ancestry can be traced back to Lenola, a town in the Lazio region. "I'm excited to be here, because my roots are Italian," he said. "I've never lived in Italy, but I love Rome: it's a fantastic place."
As for the size of the task facing his players, the 47-year-old said: "In Stuttgart, Lazio showed they are a very strong team. They played a perfect match, but we don't want to repeat our mistakes. If we do what we are able to do we can get an important result. We will be motivated and we want to play well. There is more of a chance of Lazio going through, but we don't want our involvement in the competition to end."
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