By Kevin Ashby
Describing S.S. Lazio's 4-1 defeat by FC Porto in the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final, midfield player Dejan Stankovic said "a match like that happens once a year". In order to overturn that deficit, the Roman club will have to produce the performance of a lifetime on Thursday.
Quite simply, Lazio were outplayed and outfoxed at the Antas as Porto's slick attacking game was employed to its maximum potential. Claudio López may have given Lazio hope with a sixth-minute opener but there was little for the visitors to cheer from then on as Maniche, Derlei twice and Hélder Postiga struck to establish a healthy first-leg advantage.
Faced with a huge obstacle, Lazio coach Roberto Mancini called on the club's supporters to fill the Olimpico for Thursday's return leg. Officials reacted to his plea by reducing tickets and offering women and children entry for €1. The response was immediate, Lazio selling 40,000 tickets - a figure which will be swelled on the night. Should the home side score early, the heightened atmosphere could inspire the Biancocelesti to the 3-0 success they need to progess, providing they shut out Porto.
Lazio beat Piacenza FC 2-1 at the weekend, though Mancini will field a more attacking selection against Porto. A three-man midfield will have to perform stoically to curb the talent of Deco while creating chances for a striking triumvirate of Enrico Chiesa, Simone Inzaghi and Claudio López. In goal, the veteran Luca Marchegiani stands by to replace Angelo Peruzzi, who has a thigh injury. Central defender Jaap Stam is injured and Giuseppe Favalli, Giuseppe Pancaro and Lucas Castroman miss out through suspension.
'Nothing to lose'
Stankovic is a certain starter in midfield. He said of his club's plight: "I cannot say for sure that we will reach the final but I can guarantee that we will put Porto under pressure. We have nothing to lose, I'm sure that we will score goals even if I know that we are at risk against Porto's counterattacks." Mihajlovic, his fellow Serbian, added: "We cannot let them breathe.
We have to play as we are able to do and we cannot afford to make any more mistakes."
If there is a lesson to be heeded from the first leg, it is that mistakes will be punished. Porto will be forgiven for playing more defensively in Rome, though coach José Mourinho - who is suspended after pulling the shirt of Castroman in the first leg - has sounded the old adage that attack is the best form of defence. "We won't be defensive," he said. "We'll maintain an offensive mentality as that is the best way to defend our lead."
Costinha, Porto's midfield anchor, is out with concussion after colliding with Marco Ferreira in training, while left-back Nuno Valente as he nurses a problem in his left knee. Neither will be risked if not fully fit as Porto challenge for honours on three fronts - they are also 13 points clear in the SuperLiga and through to the final of the Portuguese Cup, where they will meet UD Leiria.
Additional reporting by Paolo Menicucci and Onofre Costa.
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