Lazio suffered a shock home defeat to Bulgarians Ludogorets in a game with two red cards and two saved penalties.
Both teams were still unbeaten in the Europa League so far this season, though it was the first since Edy Reja replaced Vladimir Petkovic over Christmas. He opted for a 3-4-3 formation with Miroslav Klose flanked by Felipe Anderson and Keita Balde, but Ederson, Pereirinha and Helder Postiga were unavailable. It was the German’s first Euro start since September 2012. Ludogorets are the first Bulgarian side to reach the last 32 in this tournament.
There was a disconcertingly small crowd at the Olimpico and the game got off to a bad start for the hosts, as the referee awarded a harsh penalty for a Lorik Cana handling offence. The defender had his arm pinned to his body, but the official still considered it voluntary. However, Svetoslav Dyakov tried to perform a Panenka-style chip and Etrit Berisha didn’t fall for it, standing his ground to pluck it out of the air.
Felipe Anderson’s strike was charged down and Anderson’s chest and volley was off target. A free kick was prevented from reaching Michael Ciani by a decisive Cosmin Moti header.
Keita burst into the box down the left and pulled back for Klose, whose backheel flick couldn’t beat the goalkeeper from six yards.
There was another huge scare for Lazio on 34 minutes, as Marcelinho’s strike dipped over Berisha to thump the crossbar from distance.
Lucas Biglia’s angled drive was smothered, but Ludogorets took the lead in first half stoppages. Bezjak was allowed too much space to run forward and he unleashed a scorching shot that swerved past Berisha.
Lazio came out fighting for the second half and Felipe Anderson forced the goalkeeper to flap his shot on to the upright.
Moments later, the Brazilian was brought down when trying to dribble through a crowd of players. Felipe Anderson stepped up to take it himself, but Stoyanov performed a brilliant double save on his penalty and the Senad Lulic follow-up.
Ludogorets went down to 10 men, as Dyakov received a second yellow card for his mistimed tackle on Biglia’s ankle.
The hosts poured forward to get back on level terms and pinned Ludogorets into their own half. Antonio Candreva’s pass flashed all the way across the face of goal with Keita just unable to get on the end of it.
Gael Kakuta was given his debut in a Lazio jersey and forced Stoyanov into a save, but Lazio also went down to 10 men.
Pedro Luis Cavanda received a straight red card for an absolutely astonishing foul on Minev. He ran to cut him off at the touchline with a karate kick to the chest in midfield.
Nonetheless, Lazio had their best chance moments later when Klose crossed for Candreva, whose volley bounced off the ground to beat Stoyanov, but Fabio Espinho was there for a decisive goalline clearance.
Ludogorets then went on the counter and Ciani needed a perfectly-timed sliding tackle to stop Marcelinho going clear. Stoyanov had no problem smothering Candreva and Stefan Radu attempts, but needed an excellent one-handed save to deny Candreva’s angled drive from the left flank in the final minute.
Lazio 0-1 Ludogorets
Scorers: Berzjak 45 (Lu)
Lazio: Berisha; Ciani, Cana, Radu; Cavanda, Onazi, Biglia, Lulic (Kakuta 67); Felipe Anderson (Candreva 58), Klose (Perea 78), Keita
Ludogorets: Stoyanov; Junior Caicara, Mantyla, Moti, Minev; Dyakov, Zlatinski; Aleksandrov, Marcelinho (Juninho Quixada 89), Misidjan (Lumu 81); Bezjak (Fabio Espinho 60)
Ref: Zwayer (GER)
Saved penalty: Dyakov 9 (Lu), Felipe Anderson 50 (La)
Sent off: Dyakov 55 (Lu), Cavanda 73 (La)
Check out OLBG.com's list of ££ Free Bets from UK bookmakers before placing your bets!