13 January 2007

Review/Preview Saturday

I've been covering some other news the past couple days and haven't got around to Lazio's midweek Dubai Cup final against Benfica, nor their upcoming Serie A match against Siena. Here's the rundown:

Lazio (4) 0-0 (5) Benfica

Lazio took on Benfica in a battle of Eagles for the US$1M prize reserved for the winner of the inaugural Dubai Cup. The clubs came in quite evenly matched: Benfica had just recently dropped on the group-stage parachute from Champions League to the UEFA Cup, while Lazio are currently sitting in a UEFA Cup qualification spot in the Serie A classifica but are eyeing the fourth position.

Somewhat surprisingly, Delio Rossi started an experimental lineup at the front half. His main purpose was obviously to rest Stefano Mauri and Goran Pandev in preparation for Sunday's match against Siena. Massimo Oddo and Angelo Peruzzi started, as expected, since they did not participate in the first round match two days earlier.


While the front three weren't able to generate much of anything exciting, neither were Benfica's forwards. The match was characterized by half-chances back and forth and a lot of stagnation in the midfield. Lazio's first team defense held well and did not let the Portuguese break through.

At the start of the second half, Rossi naturally made some changes, but they could have been the difference in the match. Most notably, Peruzzi left after just 45 minutes in goal, replaced by Ballotta. Despite his 42 years, Marco Ballotta is excellent in goal during regulation. But the time drew on and there was still no score. The tournament format was to resolve ties by going directly to penalty kicks (extra time was omitted to save players' strength, an appropriate consideration for a mid-season tourney).

But Lazio was crippled going into a shootout. Oddo, the usual rigorista, was sent off in the 90th minute after making a foolish late challenge. Ballotta was left between the pipes to stare down five shooters. The task didn't seem insurmountable after Lazio got some help from poor shots. A save by José Moreira was countered by a Benfica shot that missed the frame completely; then, in the fifth round, following a crucial Lazio miss, Benfica had a single shot to end the match but it hit the crossbar. Extra kicks were required. Both sides struck in the sixth round, and in the seventh round Delio Rossi sent Ballotta to the spot to control his own fate. His weak shot was turned aside by Moreira and the match was on the line again. Pedro Moreira slotted the ball home past Ballotta (who failed to save a single shot; the only Benfica misses were off target) to clinch the championship. Lazio finished in second place, taking home a prize of $650,000.

Preview: Lazio - Siena

Lazio (25 pts, 5th place)
Siena (20 pts, 13th place)
20:30 CET / 2:30 PM EST
Sunday, 14 January
Stadio Olimpico, Roma

US TV: FSC (live)

Lazio both ends the first half and begins the second half of the season home at the Olimpico against the bianconeri of Siena. They are the only squad that Lazio has not faced yet this season, as the giro andata draws to a close. Lazio is also coming off of the winter break and their Dubai Cup second-place finish. Siena's only activity over the break were friendlies with low-level Italian teams. If the competition against top-level European squads hasn't tired out Lazio, they should have the edge. However, Siena will do their best to stop their 9-game winless slide that has seen them fall all the way from 4th place in the classifica to their current position. If the biancocelesti can come out and strike in the first half, they should be able to cruise the remainder of the match, cheered on by the Olimpico crowd.

As for the formation, Delio Rossi only has one remaining decision to make (according to Gazzetta), whether to start Mudingayi or Behrami on the right wing. The decision is probably not of much consequence and each of them will play one half. I favor Behrami in a standard first-team lineup, missing only Siviglia (out due to his red card against Parma):


Prediction: 3-0 Lazio, a strong start to kick off the new year in Serie A.

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