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  28/09/2011: Preview: Sporting Lisboa - Lazio
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Not quite as intense as the Capulets vs The Montagues in the tragic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet however, for this die hard ultra of the Biancoceleste;  Matchday Two of the UEFA Europa League it still resonates like a potential family tragedy.   Brothers and Sisters of the Sky Blue, those who eat, sleep, and breathe our team know it is almost like a rite of passage.  You marry these colours through the good and the bad, through the curses and the broken televisions to the tears of joy and delirium through celebrating a goal.   These laws that we abide by as tifosi don’t always make for an attractive catch when trying to find that special someone.  How do you convince your wife or girlfriend that you are going to miss her birthday because Lazio is away to Palermo so you’re taking the weekend off via train to Sicily with your degenerate friends in search of dangerous territory at The Barbera?  How do you explain to your family that spending in excess of 1,000 (insert your currency here __) is justified to go sit among “your people” in the Curva Nord screaming bloody murder to the people sitting in the South End of the stadium.  Until last year I was like all of you.  That was until I found my soul mate.  The  same M.O.,  identical passion and desire, and above all the same type of unconditional love for her own club:  Finally someone who gets me!  Up until recently life was roses, her team from Portugal named Sporting Lisbon played their matches most often on Saturdays followed by Lazio usually on Sundays.  Time was always available to watch both in the comfort of getting to know each other better through the love of the beautiful game.  That was until UEFA decided to throw a wrench into our happiness.   Just like the start of a world war, a powder keg begins to fill until a decisive moment pops it off spewing anarchy everywhere.  I firmly believe at this point, as Thursday agonizingly draws closer that any comment either way could set the Toronto area on fire in hot passionate football madness between two intense fans before lovers. 

Lazio vs Sporting Lisbon is like a tale of two teams that are very similar in many ways.  Born 6 years after Lazio they may not be the first team of Lisbon (Benfica circa 1904) yet they share the same hate and spite for their cross town rivals.  Originally home to the aristocratic right leaning society of Portugal, the Leões are part of the big 3 in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, however coming 3rd among Porto and Benfica is felt more like barely avoiding relegation to the club and its supporters.   Over the last decade or so the S.C.P has had to deal with instead looking over its shoulder to the likes of last year’s UEFA Europa League finalists Braga and Paços de Ferreira rather than look to see how to crack the dominance of F.C Porto and all the while remaining completive against arch-rivals Benfica.  Just last year for example like our beloved Lazio, the Directivo Ultras had to endure being mocked 3 times by their hated cousins in league and cup play.  Like Lazio who had troubles finding the back of the net, Sporting made a complete facelift to its entire people owned franchise.  Keep in mind in Portugal the fans still have a true voice when it comes to the day to day running of their club.  So prior to the end of the 2010-2011 campaign the Sportinguistas were able to vote Luiz Godinho Lopes as their new President with a secret Mr. X in a coach.  It would turn out to be a man I admire for the way he reads the game:  Domingos José Paciência Oliveira, a former legendary striker for Porto now potentially part of a trio of famous young Portuguese coaches.  This summer the two worked tirelessly cutting the dead weight freeing up the salary and bringing in the fresh blood to restoring the 18 time league Champion and a one time UEFA Cup Winners Cup.  (Coincidentally the same extinct trophy won during our successes of the Cragnotti era.)  If you thought Lazio made a lot of summer market moves in the 7 players we brought in…ADD +10 more for the Lions and you have the thumb print of the new Domingos era.  17 new faces some notables in the form of Emiliano Insua from Liverpool, Diego Capel from Sevilla, and a recognizable face in a onetime transfer target of ours Valeri Bojinov.  Like Lazio, Sporting stutter started their season to the tune of a draw and a few losses.  Let’s face it, 17 players were not going to gel together over night.  The difference in Lisbon compared to the orientation/honey moon period for Lazio’s newest acquisitions lies in coaching.  This match preview won’t turn into an Edy Reja bashing, however the youthful Domingos already has the potential to achieve more than the Friulan will ever accomplish simply because of his impatience with his players.  After already watching a handful of Sporting matches this year, I can say with all honesty this is a team based on speed and attacking in waves.  The highly touted Jeffren from Luis Enriques Barcelona “B” squad has already played his way out of the starting XI in favor of Bojinov who played his way out because of the goal scoring ratio of Ricky van Wolfswinkel.  Notice a pattern?  Paciência, like a true striker is never satisfied and once the form drops in any player he sees on the pitch, that player is immediately substituted.  It’s a formula that one Edy Reja chooses the opposite leaving players on in matches well past their expiry date, or teasing fans by warming up club captain and team idol Tomasso Rocchi, 1 goal shy of the 100-goal milestone with Lazio only to have him watch the agonizing struggles of a new team trying to find their rhythm.

As Lazio continues to stutter through the early days of the season, complacency is already beginning to show with the early leads being traded in for draws and even losses.  As Lazio continues to try and put out the fire with its ever-growing impatient supporters while struggling to find match fitness as the effects of the first week strike continues to show with the surprise smaller clubs leading Serie A, Domingos has got Sporting on a 4 game winning streak posing the killer instincts in front of goal with van Wolfswinkel and the new and improved beast-like defensive line lead by Oguchi Onyewu.  Under no false pretenses can you expect a lot of space from the team from Lisbon.  Their game remains speed and wing play, something Lazio has always lacked in the slow ball possession games of Ledesma and Mauri in the midfield.  Should Edy Reja take solace in my game to game analysis of the Portuguese club it would be for Lazio to play to its strengths as well by grinding down the midfield similar to the success felt in Cesena by effectively keeping Brocchi and Ledesma deep while Hernanes creates the space for Cisse and Klose to do damage to the backline and re-open the doubts of the Sporting Defence.

Although I’ve said little in negative comments regarding the Verde-e-Brancos I  refuse to admit that it’s based on fear!  The same fear and wrath that might bestow upon me from my green and white sweetheart who very much can turn into the same colors of the Incredible Hulk when I cross her specifically speaking ill about her team.  To keep the peace nevertheless or as peaceful as possible between the Di Mascio-Silva households, the happy couple has decided to flee the suburbs of the Mississauga/Toronto area in search of sweet serenity in one of the wonders of the world in Niagara Falls.  Serenity Now! Or not:  Even George Costanza’s match day itinerary wouldn’t consist of this much:  Canadian Passports, Grey Goose, a computer lap-top equipped with a UEFA Match-day video streaming subscription and an extra jersey of either team to be worn by the losing supporter of the opposite club.  Pray for me my friends, that we make it back alive but most of all pray for our club to one day have a coach capable of constructing an aggressive quick and attack minded team like the one we are about to face.  

• Sporting are unbeaten in five European games – two wins and three draws.
• They have also not lost in their last five UEFA home games – four wins and a draw.
• Sporting are unbeaten in their last three home ties against Serie A sides; a win and two 2-2 draws.
• Lazio's ten games against Portuguese sides have ended W6 D1 L3 (W2 D0 L3 in Portugal). They have never played a competitive game in Lisbon before.
Ed 9/29/2011 6:56:51 PM
Fantastic and thoughtful insight, lets just hope that it is Juliet who has to don the Lazio shirt on Thursday night!
Haris 9/29/2011 6:57:11 PM
Let's respect our oponents and call them by their real name, that is Sporting. The clubs real name is Sporting Clube de Portugal.
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