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Tommaso Rocchi attributed his added-time winner to "will and determination" after spending 76 minutes on the substitutes' bench of S.S. Lazio's 2-1 defeat of Villarreal CF in UEFA Europa League Group G.
The Italian striker replaced Pasquale Foggia and made an immediate impact as Lazio – a man down following the 68th minute dismissal of Matuzalem – dominated the latter stages in Rome, culminating in Rocchi's clinical finish. "It was an important goal because it came at the end of a very difficult game when we were down in numbers," said the match-winner. "Victory was essential for us in the group and for our spirits, even though we didn't play our greatest game."
Argentinian strike force
Rocchi was surprisingly left out of the starting XI by coach Davide Ballardini, who instead opted for an all Argentinian pairing of Mauro Zárate and Julio Cruz. The duo combined in the 20th minute for Zárate to give the Biancocelesti the lead yet Villarreal, who had been in command up to that point, hit back with a superb team goal scored by Sebastián Eguren.
After Matuzalem was given his marching orders, Ballardini called upon his captain. Finding space intelligently, Rocchi screwed a first chance wide but made no mistake with the second, slamming in Aleksandar Kolarov's left-wing cross in front of the Curva Nord. "When you have just one or two chances after you come on with a few minutes left, it's not always easy because you're cold," he added. "But you have to be determined and you've got to want it. In the end, that desire was rewarded."
The victory puts Lazio on six points at the halfway stage of the group, three behind leaders FC Salzburg and three ahead of third-placed Villarreal. The sides meet again in two weeks' time. "They have a very good squad who are going through a bad spell of results, but they are playing well and are fully capable of beating the best," warned Rocchi, who had watched as the Yellow Submarine, bottom of the Spanish Liga, dominated for large periods. "It wasn't easy for us tonight but in the end we got the three points."
The 32-year-old would not be drawn on how important the return match in Spain could prove to be. "I can only say it will be difficult," he said. "There are three matches left so anything can happen and we have to be cautious."
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