There were scenes of jubilation in Rome when it was confirmed that Lazio had qualified from the group stage and earned their place in the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2000. For a club of such history and stature, to go so long without making an impact in Europe’s premier club competition would’ve seemed laughable when they reached the quarter-finals 20 years ago, but two decades of hurt followed from which this current Lazio team have now emerged.
The only dampener to Lazio’s last 16 party is the fact that they have drawn defending champions Bayern Munich, who are among the top favourites to win this year’s tournament in the UEFA Champions League betting. Bayern were dominant in a difficult group, which included Atlético Madrid, and it’s no surprise that the German giants are considered as the team to beat this year after their impressive success last season, when they beat Paris Saint-Germain in the final to secure their fifth Champions League title.
But Lazio will be confident, having finished second in their group containing Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge and Zenit St Petersburg to reach the knockout stages. The Italian side perhaps gained belief from watching Atalanta’s run in the Champions League last season that there are strides to be made in the competition for teams who are bold enough to take the fight to some of Europe’s top teams.
They’ll have to do just that if they are to get the better of Bayern Munich, but despite their success domestically and in Europe last season, there is still a sense that there are weaknesses to be exploited. This season, Bayern currently find themselves second in the Bundesliga, lagging a point behind surprise package Bayer Leverkusen, who have started the season unbeaten in 11 league matches. Bayern’s solitary defeat this season came in a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Hoffenheim back in September, who found the keys to unlock Bayern’s seemingly impenetrable winning machine.
You can make no mistake that Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi, who is the younger brother of AC Milan legend Filippo Inzaghi, will be studying video footage of that game ahead of his team’s meetings with Bayern in 2021, and he’ll be hoping to find a similar formula to stifle the German champions and make the most of Lazio’s return to the big time as far as the Champions League knockout stages are concerned.
It’s a big ask for the Italian outfit, who currently sit ninth in Serie A after a fairly indifferent start to the domestic campaign. After all, this is a formidable Bayern side, and last season’s 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals was proof of what a special collection of players Bayern coach Hans-Dieter Flick has at his disposal.
Lazio fans will hope that their team is not on the end of a similar beating, but with the club buoyed by this return to Champions League relevance, the players will be motivated to produce a performance that their supporters will be proud of, even if they can’t attend in person.
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