José Mari Romero scored for Villarreal CF but was later sent off as Tommaso Rocchi's late equaliser ensured S.S. Lazio a home point in their opening UEFA Cup Group E fixture.
Striker José Mari had been a doubt before the match following a stomach upset but managed to make an instant impact with an early goal at the Olimpico stadium tonight. However, his second-half dismissal allowed Lazio to fight back for a draw through their half-time substitute.
Lazio, defeated by AC Chievo Verona in Serie A last Sunday, made seven changes to their lineup. Meanwhile, UEFA Intertoto Cup winners Villarreal, who are also not enjoying the best of times on the domestic front themselves, showed four alterations from the side which drew at RCD Mallorca last weekend.
It took last season's semi-finalists no time at all to settle into their stride as they gained the initiative with just four minutes on the clock. José Mari cut in from the right unchallenged and stroked the ball past Matteo Sereni in the Lazio goal.
The goal seemed to shock Lazio into life and just five minutes after conceding they could have been level. Christian Manfredini made a run from the right before sending in a stinging low drive which was palmed into the path of oncoming striker Simone Inzaghi by goalkeeper José Manuel Reina. However, with the goal at his mercy the forward missed the target, clipping the post from no more than three metres out.
The Biancocelesti continued to press and dominated large spells of the first half. However, the closest they could come to scoring after Inzaghi's miss was a Goran Pandev volley which Reina did well to push around the post five minutes before the break.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Lazio on top but failing to penetrate the Villarreal defence. Despite continued pressure the only save they forced out of Reina in the opening 30 minutes was from a blistering Massimo Oddo half-volley which was aimed straight at the goalkeeper.
The Rome side's chances improved when on 75 minutes Villarreal were reduced to ten men. First-half goalscorer José Mari turned from hero to villain, earning a red card from German referee Michael Weiner for an elbow in the face of Giuliano Giannichedda.
Then, when it seemed as though time was going to run out Lazio finally got the breakthrough. With six minutes left Luciano Zauri played a delightful flick through to Rocchi who beat Reina to the ball to toe-poke it into the net. The goal was no more than Lazio deserved for their possession but came too late for last season's Coppa Italia winners to force a winner.
Next the Italian side face a trip to early group leaders Middlesbrough FC in two weeks time. Villarreal have Matchday 2 off, but on 25 November welcome Middlesbrough to El Madrigal.
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