For a team with a decent European record in recent years, S.S. Lazio have only once progressed past the UEFA Champions League group stage. That could be put right on Wednesday, however, when they meet Olympiacos CFP and home coach Delio Rossi believes success would be proof of how far Lazio have come in his three years in charge.
These sides are dead level on five points in Group C, having drawn 1-1 in Athens on Matchday 1. Should either prevail in Rome, they would be through with a match to spare provided leaders Real Madrid CF avoid defeat at bottom club Werder Bremen. "Qualification is very important in showing how much we have grown over the last three years," said Rossi, appointed in December 2004. "We are growing stronger all the time and reaching the last 16 would reflect how far we have come. That's more important to me than any personal achievement."
Rossi has injury concerns ahead of the game, with defender Lorenzo De Silvestri not expected to play after returning from Italy Under-21 duty with a bruised left knee, while midfielder Massimo Mutarelli is also out. Lazio needed a late Luciano Zauri equaliser when they last faced Olympiacos, yet Rossi has confidence in his team. "We have never gone missing in the most important games, we've played well," he said. "We play strongly and with intensity and that will be vital. The main thing is to play with a strong heart and a cool head."
A 1-0 weekend success against Parma FC ended a three-match losing streak in Serie A, although Lazio had won their previous fixture against Bremen 19 days earlier. The reason for the gap was the accidental shooting of Lazio fan Gabriele Sandri on 11 November, and Sunday's victory was dedicated to his memory. "Every supporter has been dealing with this in his own way, and it is not for me to tell them how to react," Rossi said. "But we hope to see many of them here as their backing is important."
Olympiacos themselves expect to have 8,000 fans behind them in the Stadio Olimpico, and coach Panagiotis Lemonis has promised a positive approach against opponents who have already held Real Madrid CF 2-2 and beaten Bremen here. "They are a good Italian team and showed that against Real Madrid," Lemonis said. "They are well-organised defensively, but we expect them to come at us straight away and attack. A draw would not be a bad result for us, yet it would be dangerous to play for a draw."
Thigh injuries deprive the visitors of defenders Didier Domi and Júlio César, and midfielder Marko Né has a knee problem. Cristián Raúl Ledesma sat out Saturday's lacklustre 1-0 Super League win against GAS Veria but should return for the Lazio contest. The Greek champions gained an inaugural UEFA Champions League away victory at the 32rd attempt at Bremen on Matchday 2. A second success would take them through to the knockout rounds for the first time in nine seasons.
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