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Thu Apr 24 23:48:14 SAST 2014

In-form Lazio face Europa League test at Tottenham

Sapa-AP | 19 September, 2012 09:530 Comments
AC Chievo Verona v S.S. Lazio - Serie A
Stefano Mauri of Lazio
Image by: Dino Panato / Getty Images

Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic says his in-form team can still improve as it prepares for Thursday’s Europa League opener at Tottenham Hotspur.

Lazio has got off to a perfect start this season, winning all five of its games in Serie A and the Europa League qualifiers.

  However, it faces perhaps its toughest test yet against a Tottenham side returning to Europe’s second competition after a debut season in the Champions League.

  “We’ve improved a lot,” Petkovic said. “But there are still margins for progress and that pleases me. I don’t doubt that the lads will keep their feet on the ground. We’ll let the fans have the pleasure of praising the team, but we have to think about Thursday’s game.

  “We’ve got our confidence back and every positive result boosts that and we want to continue like this.”  Tottenham is finding its feet under new coach Andre Villas Boas and picked up its first win of the season against Reading on Sunday, following two draws and a defeat.

  “They’re a very solid squad, very strong and they have got their confidence back in time for the Europa League,” Petkovic said.

“After the victory against Reading, they have started to believe in Villas Boas.

  “They’ll come at us full blast and we have to be ready. I’m not scared, we have to continue to grow and go there to win the game. However, we have to be aware that we will suffer at times and we have to be able to withstand that.”  After finally getting that first win of the season, Spurs will be full of confidence and eager to push on.

  “It was massively important to get that win,” striker Gareth Bale said. “It was one of those games that kick-starts our season now. We’re not too far behind everybody and we played some great stuff. We’ll be going out there to win every game and hopefully we can do that.

  “He (Villas Boas) is here to build a team and it’s a new way of playing for us. Everybody just has to be patient. Things will come and it’ll start to click like it did against Reading and hopefully we can push on from there.”  The other game in Group J sees Panathinaikos visit NK Maribor.

  Atletico Madrid kicks off the defense of its title at Hapoel Tel-Aviv and coach Diego Simeone has surprisingly left Radamel Falcao out of his squad.

  The Colombia striker, who has scored nine goals in six games for club and country to start the season, was missing from Tuesday’s team list alongside playmaker Arda Turan, captain Gabi Fernandez and defenders Filipe Luis and Diego Godin, as Simeone preferred to spare them from the long trip ahead of its next league match against Valladolid.

  “This club is ambitious and we’ve won some prestige in Spain and in Europe now, and we’d like to maintain our humble ways and keep thinking every team wants to beat us,” defender Juanfran Torres said.

  “It’s nice that we’re talking well about Atletico Madrid because I’ve lived through some pretty bad moments with Atletico Madrid when things were not very good and everyone was a pessimist. I prefer optimism.”  The team was received by King Juan Carlos at the royal palace on Monday in honor of its 4-1 European Super Cup victory against Chelsea last month.

  Meanwhile, French leader Marseille hosts Fenerbahce at the Stade Velodrome.

  Marseille has set a club record after opening the season with five straight wins to sit atop the league against all expectations, having sold key players in the summer.

  “We know we will have some tough times ahead,” Marseille coach Elie Baup said after Sunday’s 1-0 win away to Nancy. “But we must keep going.”  Joey Barton could make his Marseille debut, likely as a substitute, after the fiery midfielder’s acrimonious departure from Queens Park Rangers this summer. He has been forced to sit out the league action because his English suspension is recognized in France.

  Two teams seeking to win their fourth title, Liverpool and Internazionale, kick off their campaigns against Young Boys and Rubin Kazan respectively.

  Elswehere, Napoli hosts Swedish outfit AIK Solna, while last season’s runner-up Athletic Bilbao entertains Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.

  Striker Fernando Llorente marked his return to Athletic by scoring on his first touch of the season. The Spain striker, who missed nearly one month as his future was uncertain, can at least help the Basque club qualify for the knockout stages as he has already said he will negotiate a move away from the club in January with his contract set to expire at the close of the season.

  Midfielder Ander Iturraspe believes Athletic are favorites in their Group I, which also includes Lyon and Sparta Prague.

  “Little by little we’re improving, and we’ll only get better,” Iturraspe said to sum up an uneven Spanish league start that saw it lose its opening two games by a combined score of 9-3. “It’s really important that Fernando (Llorente) is playing.” 

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