Thursday September 20 2018
EL: Lazio squeeze past Apollon

Lazio started the Europa League with a 2-1 victory over Apollon Limassol, but were almost made to pay for their complacency.

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The Biancocelesti began their Europa League campaign still ultimately ruing the last-gasp defeat to Inter which prevented them from taking their place in the Champions League. Luiz Felipe, Stefan Radu and Valon Berisha were injured, with summer signing Joaquin Correa suspended, but Silvio Proto made his debut in goal. Cypriots Apollon Limassol impressed in the tournament last season, earning draws with Lyon, Everton and Atalanta.

These clubs had already crossed paths in the 2013-14 Europa League group phase, Lazio drawing in Nicosia and winning 2-1 at home.

It took all of 10 seconds to get the first shot on goal and corner, Alessandro Murgia’s effort palmed round the base of the near post.

The opening goal on 14 minutes was very well-worked, as Felipe Caicedo drew away two defenders and provided a sensational back-heel flick to send Luis Alberto clear through the middle.

Caicedo almost had another for himself, but fired inches wide after springing the offside trap and shrugging off a defender, then finished over following a repeat give-and-go.

Bastos saw his free header go over from close range and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic stung goalkeeper Bruno Vale’s gloves.

Lazio were sluggish after the restart and Apollon’s double substitution seemed to shake them up, Facundo Pereyra blasting over when Mustapha Carayol surged past Bastos and Sasa Markovic’s strike deflected wide.

On 66 minutes, Papoulis got his glancing header to a Joao Pedro free kick and it skimmed the far post with Proto beaten.

Moments later, Andre Schembri got in front of Riza Durmisi to nod just wide of the near stick, while Carayol flew past Bastos to roll across the face of goal with nobody ready to meet it.

With 10 minutes to go, Markovic unleashed a scorcher of a free kick from 25 metres that clipped the outside of the post.

However, Joao Pedro was caught napping in the box, as Caicedo pounced on the loose ball and was brought down. Substitute Immobile converted the penalty by drilling just under the goalkeeper’s hand.

Apollon didn’t give in and set up a tense finale, as a corner ricocheted around the box until Emilio Zelaya fired in at the back post.

Lazio should’ve killed it off with Senad Lulic moments later, as he was sent clear by Immobile on the counter, went round the goalkeeper, but then wanted several touches before finally getting the shot away from four yards and saw it cleared off the line!

The points are nonetheless crucial, especially as Olympique Marseille incredibly lost 2-1 at home to 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt in this group.

Lazio 2-1 Apollon Limassol

Luis Alberto 14 (L), Immobile pen 84 (L), Zelaya 87 (A)

Lazio: Proto; Bastos, Acerbi, Caceres; Basta, Murgia, Badelj (Lucas Leiva 61), Milinkovic-Savic (Lulic 73), Durmisi; Luis Alberto (Immobile 61); Caicedo

Apollon Limassol: Bruno Vale; Joao Pedro, Roberge, Yuste, Vasiliou; Kryiakou (Markovic 46), Sacchetti; Schembri, Pereyra (Zelaya 69), Papoulis; Maglica (Carayol 46)

Ref: Aghayev (AZE)

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