Football: Lazio sneak into Champions League last 16 after nail-biting finale

Football: Lazio sneak into Champions League last 16 after nail-biting finale

ROME (REUTERS) – Lazio enjoyed the luckiest of escapes as they sneaked into the Champions League last 16 for the first time in more than 20 years on Tuesday (Dec 8) after being held to a 2-2 draw at home by Club Brugge who played the entire second half with 10 men.

Needing at least a draw to qualify, Lazio appeared totally in control as they took a 2-1 lead in less than half an hour while the visitors had Eduard Sobol sent off in the 39th minute.

However, Hans Vanaken headed Brugge level in the 76th minute and, in an incredible finish, the Belgian outsiders hit the bar in stoppage time.

Amid huge relief at a soggy Stadio Olimpico, the Italians – who previously went beyond the group stage only in 1999-2000 – held on to finish second in Group F on 10 points, with Brugge third on eight. Borussia Dortmund topped the section with 13 points.

“After the first match I said that it would be decided in the last match but I didn’t think of the last seconds,” said Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

“It’s a great experience for the young guys. They will learn a lot from it and become better in the future.”

Sobol was booked in the second minute for a foul on Manuel Lazzari, which he would later regret, and Lazio took a 12th-minute lead through Joaquin Correa who snapped up the rebound after Luis Alberto’s shot had been saved by Mignolet.

The Belgians levelled with a similar goal three minutes later, Ruud Vormer scoring after Pepe Reine parried Noa Lang’s shot.

Ciro Immobile won and converted a penalty to put Lazio back in front after 27 minutes, scoring for the ninth successive game in all competitions.

As the rain turned to a downpour, Sobol was let off unpunished for another foul on Lazzari but then pushed his luck with a third tackle on the same player and was dismissed.

Instead of cruising through the second half, however, Lazio suffered an outbreak of jitters.

Immobile squandered a chance for the third goal by firing over the top after being released by Luis Alberto, and coach Simone Inzaghi then replaced Immobile, Luis Alberto and Lucas Leiva – all key players – at the same time.

Immediately, Vanaken headed home from Vormer’s cross, Lazio’s nerves became even more frayed and a spell of intense Brugge pressure ended with Charles De Ketelaere rifling a shot against the bar deep into stoppage time.

“We are proud of our achievement, it’s too long since the club was at this stage,” said Immobile. “We should have taken our chances earlier today, before the drama in the final minutes. I should have scored before being substituted.”