Bayer Leverkusen secured a place in the main Champions League draw thanks to an easy 3-1 aggregate victory over lethargic Lazio.
The Aquile travelled to Germany with a great amount of belief, having won the first leg of their encounter 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico last week.
However, they were ripped apart at the BayArena by a rampant home side, who ruthlessly punished every defensive mistake with relish.
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Dutch centre-back Stefan de Vrij inexplicably waited for goalkeeper Etrit Berisha to come out and claim the ball before Bayer’s opener, but that didn’t happen.
The ball bounced around akin to a pinball machine throughout the ensuing confusion, eventually ending up in the back of Berisha’s net courtesy of Hakan Calhanoglu.
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Brazilian defender Mauricio, who’d been involved in the aforementioned melee, was later beaten far too easily when attempting a tackle on Admir Mehmedi, who finished with aplomb.
Mauricio received a second yellow card in the 68th minute, putting paid to any hope the visitors had of making a comeback.
A third strike duly arrived through Karim Bellarabi, thus condemning the Biancocelesti to demotion into the Europa League.
To make matters worse, bitter rivals Roma will be revelling in Europe’s elite competition this term, while Lazio are forced to look on enviously.
Lazio worked so hard to earn themselves a shot at the Champions League by finishing third in Serie A, but threw it all away due to a series of horrendous defensive errors.
Stefano Pioli’s men were missing the guile and experience of injured pair Lucas Biglia and Miroslav Klose, which was all-too evident on the night.
Captain Biglia’s calming influence in front of the back three would have been hugely helpful to their cause, while German veteran Klose may well have proved more clinical with the two chances presented to young striker Keita Balde during the opening half-hour.
Instead, coach Pioli must swiftly raise his troops’ damaged morale ahead of a league schedule that includes tough trips to Chievo and Napoli within the next month.
Besides the obvious disappointment felt over their ignominious Champions League exit, the heavy loss in Leverkusen also serves as a stark reminder of exactly how difficult a task it is for the Laziali to repeat last season’s heroics.
Few people expected the capital club to finish within the top three positions under 49-year-old tactician Pioli at the conclusion of his initial campaign at the helm, but his vibrant squad confounded critics to do just that.
Wednesday night’s result puts the urgent need for reinforcements into sharp focus, which is a theory only backed up further by the fact that Lazio simply failed to cope without two key players, in what amounted to the biggest match of their season.
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