S.S. Lazio must beat Besiktas JK to entertain realistic hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.
By Tom Kington in Rome
After two UEFA Champions League defeats in succession, S.S. Lazio will come out fighting at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday in a late bid to grab the second qualification spot in Group G from visitors Besiktas JK.
Bottom of the group on four points after their 4-0 mauling at the hands of group leaders Chelsea FC, the Rome club need to beat their visitors on Matchday 5 and then AC Sparta Praha on 9 December to stand a realistic chance of progressing, while a draw for Mircea Lucescu's men will push them to seven points and on course for the knockout stage.
"This game is fundamental to our survival in the Champions League," said Lazio right-back Massimo Oddo, who returns from suspension for the game. "If we can't get three points we probably don’t deserve to go through," he continued. "But we believe we are a strong team, we have beaten Besiktas away, we must win and I don't see why we can't."
In turn, Lucescu denied he was coming to Rome seeking just a draw. "We will play to win, to avoid any danger of having to depend on other teams' results in the last game," said the Romanian coach.
As an added incentive, Besiktas' final home game against Chelsea will now be played at a neutral ground due to security fears in Istanbul, a fact that could affect the players concentration, warned Lucescu.
On Matchday 1, Lazio put two goals past Besiktas in Istanbul in a clinical display of Italian counterattacking. But while the Turkish club were subsequently able to nick a surprise victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and then defeat Sparta at home, Lazio drew with the Czech club before being beaten home and away by Claudio Ranieri's side.
"Lazio were better than us in Istanbul but this return match will be hard for both sides," said Lucescu. "It will be a tactical game and while we need to play to our strengths, Lazio will do well counterattacking on the flanks and from set-pieces."
Besiktas are currently riding high at the top of the Turkish Super League and come into the game with few injury worries. Emre Asik and Ilhan Mansiz return from international duty with Turkey, with the latter likely to start up front ahead of Daniel Pancu and Sergen Yalçin, while Okan Koç, Federico Giunti, Tayfur Havutçu and Ibrahim Üzülmez should complete the midfield.
Lazio have one statistic in their favour, having won their last three games against Besiktas – the UEFA Champions League opener this season and two legs in the UEFA cup quarter-finals last season. "We have beaten Besiktas in our last three encounters and if we can play our football then I would say we have a good chance of going through," said assistant manager Fernando Orsi, standing in for a influenza-hit manager Roberto Mancini.
A 3-1 victory on Sunday against AC Perugia raised Lazio to fifth in Serie A and restored confidence, with Dejan Stankovic, Bernardo Corradi and Simone Inzaghi all scoring, the latter with a delightful chip in stoppage time.
Mancini is expected to again field Corradi and Inzaghi together up front, while on a night calling for calm nerves, European veteran Demetrio Albertini is likely to be preferred to on-form Fabio Liverani in midfield, with Stefano Fiore returning from injury on the right.