Friday night’s match against Inter Milan had been billed as a huge test for Lazio. They had been performing very well all season, yet many failed to recognize them as one of the top teams in Serie A. To be considered a serious contender, at least in the eyes of the Italian media, Lazio would have to beat one of the big three teams from the North.
Inter Milan may be limping at the moment, but they are still Inter. Had Benitez’s side won the match, they would now have 26 points and again be considered a favorite for the Scudetto. If they are now being written off, with open speculation as to who their next coach will be, it is not because Lazio mere beat them, but because Lazio thoroughly dominated them. Not only did Rome’s first team pass the test, they passed it with honors.
Lazio began the match with Matuzalem playing in place of Ledesma, and Floccari back in the middle as the target man, with Zarate pushed out to the left. These modifications to the lineup seemed to pay immediate dividends as an early header from Floccari was saved in dramatic fashion by Castellazzi, and Zarate was regularly beating Natalino down the left wing. After yet another of Lazio’s penetrating attacks resulted in a corner kick, a header from Hernanes left Cambiasso scrambling to clear the ball from Inter’s goal line, straight into the side of Biava and subsequently back into the net. The goal itself came from a fortuitous rebound, but the Lazio advantage was sure to have come one way or another.
Reja’s team dominated play for most of the first half. Inter possessed the ball for roughly the same amount of time, but their possessions didn’t create nearly as many scoring opportunities as Lazio’s did. When Stankovic suffered a muscle pull late in the half, and was replaced by Motta, Lazio’s hold over the midfield became even stronger.
Behind by one goal away from home, Inter decided to play more aggressively and take more chances in search of the equalizer. Unfortunately for the currently Champions League cup holders, this only created more counterattacking space for Lazio to exploit. Mauri, Floccari, Hernanes and Zarate were in their element, and the latter two players worked together for a goal that sent the crowd into ecstasy.
A ball intercepted in Lazio’s half was immediately given to Hernanes, with the Brazilian quickly advancing into the space that was immediately in front of him. Now into Inter’s half of the field, he lopped a delicate ball across to Zarate, who had been just in line with Natalino and Cordoba. Lazio’s number ten did well to get behind the young defender, and brilliantly touched the ball past Castellazzi with his left foot. Hernanes to Zarate, the Lazio fans could not have asked for more.
Now down by two goals, Inter began to press even harder, and Lazio continued to counterattack with style and skill. Clear chances for Floccari and Mauri could have put the game away, but Lazio did not seem overly concerned. That is until their old friend Pandev found the net after a fortuitous rebound of his own. Suddenly Inter had come alive, and Lazio were looking a bit shaky, struggling to disrupt Inter’s ball movement in the midfield as they had done earlier in the match.
A late scramble in Lazio’s penalty area, concluded by a close range shot from Cordoba that was brilliantly saved by Muslera, had Lazio fans nervously checking their watches. But Relief was soon on its way, and it came in the form of a Hernanes free kick. A slight deflection from the wall gave Castellazzi no chance, but the excellent shot might have found the net even without it. Lazio were now back comfortably in the lead, and the heavy rain that started to fall could not dampen the spirits of both the players and the fans. The first test was a resounding success, and now the next one (player’s strike permitting) is right around the corner.