Lazio will enter the bird’s nest on August 8 feeling quietly confident. They are somewhat used to finals and will use the Coppa Italia experience to help them take on Inter.
Lazio started off the Coppa Italia campaign in 2008 with a bang. A home draw against lowly Benevento was exactly what the Biancocelesti needed and it was Stefano Mauri who put them ahead on nine minutes, with Mourad Meghni doubling the lead shortly afterwards. Benevento threatened little and even though they did pull one back, a goal from Christian Manfredini and a brace from Macedonian Goran Pandev meant that the first round opposition were disposed of with ease 5-1.
Next was another home draw, but this time a possibly tricky tie against Atalanta. Lazio’s inconsistent league form meant the cup was a welcome break, and the possibility to enjoy the game. They did this to good effect with Cristian Ledesma and Pandev, the latter specialising in cup goals up to now, putting Atalanta to the sword 2-0, giving Lazio the chance to go to the San Siro.
AC Milan away is always a fixture that is highly rated in the calendar for any team, and for Lazio in the next stage of the Coppa Italia this was no different. This game could have ended very differently. Andriy Shevchenko had missed a hatful of chances and it looked like it would not be his day before he netted in the 78th minute. What happened next was the turning point of Lazio’s whole Coppa Italia experience. On 87 minutes they were awarded a penalty. Mauro Zarate stepped up to take it and scored – his first goal in the Coppa Italia coming at a crucial time – and all of a sudden it looked like this tie would go right to the death. Enter Goran Pandev, the man who could not stop scoring in this competition. He made the most of some confusion in the area and pounced on a loose ball to make it 2-1 to Lazio. The shock around the San Siro was evident. Lazio went home to Rome to await Torino, Milan were out.
The tale of the Turin teams followed with Pandev again showing that this was not Lazio’s competition but his own personal show case, as he netted along with Mauri and Tommaso Rocchi in a convincing 3-1 win. So to Turin, where a 2-1 win at Juventus saw Pandev not on the score sheet, instead leaving it to Zarate and Aleksander Kolarov to put Lazio through, in what was a fast tempo game that saw the Old Lady look desperately ill. The return saw things go back to normal, as Pandev was back on the score sheet, this time with Rocchi, and the forward pair made it 2-1 now in both legs. This saw Lazio reach their first final since 2003/04 and facing a Sampdoria team that most fans thought they could beat, especially when at the Stadio Olympico.
So to the final in Rome, where Lazio started quicker than Sampdoria and scored after four minutes, with Zarate taking the plaudits. Sampdoria replied and struck back quickly with a close range effort from Pazzini. However, no further goals meant the game went to penalties, where Ousmane Dabo became the hero as he scored to make it 7-6 to Lazio and helped them win the trophy they last won in 2004. It is perhaps this recent experience of cup victory that could prove critical against Inter in China.