Wednesday Sep 23, 2020  
  16/12/2011: Morning Coffee with... Alasdair
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Wednesday night’s achievement of qualifying for the Europa League Last 32 came quietly and comfortably in the end. A competition that is often not regarded as particularly exciting or important by neutral fans, or even competing teams, has suddenly peaked significant interest due to some high-profile teams joining after disappointing Champions League campaigns.

The most obvious examples are the two Manchester sides, United and City. Man Utd fans will still be wondering quite how they’ve ended up in the pot for tomorrow’s Last 32 draw after competing in three of the last four Champions League finals. City, however, are a new and enthusiastic addition to European football and former Lazio player and manager Roberto Mancini has already outlined his desire to win the competition. The daunting fact for the rest of the competition is that it seems highly possible that even a Man City reserve team could be considered favourites due to the incredible depth of quality in their squad.
There is much excitement among Laziali now with the prospect of such a glamorous tie. However, it was not too long ago that Lazio were regularly involved in such games, although it may not feel like it. Time to have a look at the biancoceleste’s glamorous European history I think.

Until the Cragnotti revolution began, our only notable contribution to European football was a win in the ‘Coppa delle Alpi’, a fairly low-key competition between Italian and Swiss sides. However, the late nineties and early noughties (I hate the term as well but you know what I mean...) brought exciting European adventures to the blue side of Rome, most notably with a win in the last ever UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1999, quickly followed by also bagging the European Supercup the same year. The success had been coming, after reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 94/95 and losing in the final of the same competition to Inter in the 97/98 season. The impact of these campaigns are part of the reason Lazio are still known as one of the ‘big names’ of Italian football, and the international fanbase of the club grew hugely during this time as neutrals were taken by the magic of Nedved, Stankovic, Salas et al.

The 1999/00 season saw the first club of Rome fight their way to the quarter finals of the Champions League before losing to Valencia, in the same season that we claimed our second Scudetto. However, as flaws in the Cragnotti machine started to show, the club’s success abroad began to diminish rather than grow. Lazio qualified for the Champions League in three of the next four seasons, reaching the second group stage in the 2000/01 season before finishing bottom of their group in 01/02 and 03/04. The season between these two failures saw the biancoceleste storm to the semi finals of the UEFA Cup before succumbing to Jose Mourinho’s Porto side.
By this time, the money had started to run out and the classy players began to look for greener pastures. The 2004/05 season saw Lazio qualify for the UEFA Cup group stage, before finishing in last place. This is a failure the club have never seemed to recover from, as European exploits have been few and disappointing ever since. Champions League football was again achieved in 07/08, but again ended poorly with a last place finish in the group stage, the highlight being a spirited 2-2 draw with Real Madrid. Our most recent attempt at making a mark on Europe was again frustrating, crashing out of a relatively easy looking Europa League group in 2009/10.

Suddenly, after considering Wednesday night’s win in this context, the achievement of reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League seems hugely significant, and a possible turning point in the European fortunes of this once-great club. This is the first time we have managed to make it to the knockout phase of any European competition since losing to Porto in the semi final of the 02/03 UEFA Cup.
It all seemed too easy last night, but the achievement must be praised. Lazio are a club on the up, both domestically and in Europe, and we seem well on the way to once again battling our way into the hearts of neutral fans worldwide. A tie against one of the big guns of European football would be an exciting chance to show the rest of Europe what we have to offer, so all eyes will be on Nyon today for the draw as Laziali around the globe hold one collective thought; ‘please let it be a Manchester team!’

(Alasdair Mackenzie)
Twitter: @olimpiacalcio
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