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Rocco Cammisola On September - 28 - 2011

Europa League Preview - Sporting Lisbon vs Lazio

Thursday evening sees Lazio continue their Europa League campaign in Portugal against Sporting Lisbon. The Rome side will be anxious to get their European campaign back on track after a disappointing draw at home to Romanian side FC Vaslui in their first outing, but will also be incredibly wary of Sporting - who are clearly the other big club in the group.

The sides have never faced each other before - in fact it is Lazio’s competitive game in the Portuguese capital - but Lazio’s record against other Portuguese sides away from home suggests inconsistency. Lazio have played in Portugal five times, winning twice and losing on three occasions - with the most recent defeat coming on a wet April evening in Porto, when Deco was instrumental in destroying the biancocelesti 4-1 on the way to their, and Jose Mourinho’s, UEFA Cup triumph.

A number of players in the Sporting ranks will be familiar to Serie A viewers. Valeriy Bojinov, once of Fiorentina, Juventus and Parma was also a team mate of Lazio’s Cristian Ledesma at Lecce some time ago. The Bulgarian is trying to rediscover himself in Portugal. Milan central defender Oguchi Onyewu is currently on loan in Lisbon, trying to get back to his former glory after long term injury saw him giving up a seasons wages in Milan.

Lazio boss Edy Reja has also recently crossed paths with the Lisbon club, meeting them in the UEFA Cup first round with Napoli in 2008/09 - things didn’t end well for him back then, losing 4-3 on aggregate after a 3-2 home victory. While the rest of the players had a day off on Monday, Reja has been busy analysing videos, scheming a way to achieve victory in a previously fruitless land.

“We’ll go to Portugal looking to play a huge game, but they are formidable at home.” Reja fretted, but tried to remain upbeat saying “They will take the initiative, but will leave space behind in defence for us.” The Lazio boss explained that “they play a 4-3-3 and are very quick and have excellent technical abilities when attacking. Luckily they leave their wide areas open and we will need to make the most of this to attack them.”

While Lazio fans shouldn’t be losing much sleep worrying about Bojinov, and they’ll be thankful that Izmailov and Jeffren won’t be available for the game, there are still enough players in the Lisbon side to cause concern. Ricky van Wolkswinkel - who has one of the best names in sports entertainment today - will play and is in a fine vein of form. “I’m going through a good phase, scoring always.” explains van Wolfswinkel, continuing “I feel stronger physically. The competition here in Portugal is very intense and I always have to be at my best.” His tally stands at four domestic goals and one in the Europa League so far this season.

Lazio do have a man who has slain the beast that lies before them. The last time Miroslav Klose faced the Portuguese side in the 2008/09 Champions League round of 16 the aggregate resembled a baseball score - Bayern won 12-1 with Klose scoring a goal in each leg. Lazio fans will be hoping for more of the same from the German.

While an away trip may seem a daunting task, Lazio are currently under a hoodoo at home this season. They have scored just one goal in 180 minutes of Serie A football at home - Giuseppe Sculli’s opener against Genoa. They have scored just 1 puny point at home, the worst start at the Olimpico since the 2004-05 season.

The fans at home haven’t been very happy with the opening shots either. They booed the team off the pitch a few Sundays ago after Genoa came from behind to snatch all three points, leading to an outburst from Reja who threatened to quit. After being persuaded to stay by Claudio Lotito, Reja said that “the picture is good, but the frame is rotten”.

The fans cheered throughout a dull 0-0 draw with Palermo on Sunday, but made their feelings known about the performance at the end with a few boos and whistles. Reja has heaped pressure on himself to get a first home win saying “it will come in the Rome derby” due to be played on October 16 - a fixture he is yet to be successful in. That game is the next home fixture, and won’t be played for over two weeks. While there’s no place like home, the change of scenery will do the squad, the coach and the fans some good. After all, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Rocco Cammisola

Rocco is a football writer who follows football in England and Italy for a number of sites, including his own - The Football Express ( Most of his writing focuses on the lesser talked about teams, attempting to bring them to the world's attention.

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