Substitute Simone Inzaghi's second-half strike gave S.S. Lazio the edge in the first leg of their UEFA Cup quarter-final against Besiktas JK at the Stadio Olimpico.
Inzaghi the difference
The striker, returning from a one-month layoff with a wrist injury, turned on Dejan Stankovic's cross five minutes after entering the action to fire the home side ahead and set up the prospect of an exciting second leg between two evenly-matched sides in Istanbul next week. "With Inzaghi we had more strength in attack," said Lazio coach Roberto Mancini of the 50th-minute substitute.
Lazio dictated the pace early on, with César and Giuseppe Favalli combining well to stretch Besiktas down the left. Neither side, however, were able to break through on goal until the 13th minute when Lazio fashioned the first chance of the night, Enrico Chiesa feeding Claudio López who could only touch the ball tamely into the arms of Óscar Córdoba. A minute later, Favalli crossed from the left only for Nikola Lazetic in space to flash a shot high and wide.
Besiktas, however, would not be knocked off their stride and enjoyed plenty of possession without threatening in the final third. Ilhan Mansiz, Daniel Pancu and Sergen Yalçin all looked sharp up front and two minutes from the break Jaap Stam had to be alert to clear from Ilhan after the Turkish international had burst past Fernando Couto to open a path through to goal.
Lazio in front
Suddenly, Besiktas were in the ascendancy and a bright start to the second half saw Angelo Peruzzi save free-kicks in quick succession from Sergen and Ilhan. But just when it seemed Besiktas were assuming control, Lazio struck. On 56 minutes, Stankovic on the right crossed low to Inzaghi who controlled eight metres out before turning and shooting low past an unsighted Córdoba.
Ilhan comes close
A goal to the good, Lazio grew in confidence and took the game to Besiktas, ironically leaving themselves exposed on the break and twice Ilhan came close to taking advantage. On 67 minutes Sergen's clever pass put the striker through on goal and he outpaced Couto only to fire over. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Ilhan's shot was on target, but Peruzzi blocked with his legs.
Claudio López denied
The game continued to flow from end to end, but ultimately it was Lazio who will rue not adding to the scoreline. On 82 minutes Diego Simeone and Stefano Fiore both miskicked when clear in front of goal, then López was denied a goal on the break in the dying seconds by Ronaldo Guiaro's terrific block.
"It's not possible to waste so many opportunities," Mancini said. "In the first half we played well but only to the edge of their area - we couldn't take advantage in the final third.
We played well and we'll go to Istanbul to win, not just defend for a draw. We hope to score at least once there to make sure we go through."
Disappointed in defeat
Besiktas coach Mircea Lucescu admitted his frustration at his side's failure to hold on for a draw. "We played well in the first half, but made a big mistake in the second by giving away possession to let Lazio score," he said. "But the result keeps the second leg wide open. The atmosphere our fans will create will make it a different game in Istanbul."