Serie A - Four-goal Lazio forced to settle for Europa League berth
Lazio romped to a 4-2 win at 10-man Lecce but were unable to overhaul Udinese for Serie A’s fourth Champions League place.
Lazio needed to win and for champions Milan to do them a favour; the Rome side kept their side of the bargain but the Rossoneri seemed happy to play out a goalless draw at Udinese.
So level on points and in all manner of head-to-head permutations, old-fashioned goal difference saw the Zebrette claim fourth ahead of the Biancocelesti.
While the result meant nothing in the end the game itself was brilliant: Lecce came from behind twice before losing goalkeeper Massimiliano Benassi to a red card as both sides threw caution to the wind for large parts of the match.
The visitors started brilliantly as veteran striker Rocchi slid a crisp low finish across Benassi and in off the far post for a sixth-minute lead.
Lecce responded well: David Di Michele had a penalty appeal rejected, Djamel Mesbah headed just over via the back of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Di Michele was denied a volleyed goal by Andre Dias heading off the line and the same man again headed wide from a corner.
The match was ebbing and flowing and Lazio came agonisingly close to a second when Zarate’s finish came back off the post and - when a Lecce corner saw all their defenders stranded upfield - a rapid counter put Rocchi clean through only for his finish to be slid off the line by a last-gasp Coppola challenge.
Coppola followed up his defensive heroics with a wonderful equaliser down the other end as he flew into a first-time volleyed lob that left Fernando Muslera stranded, a rare strike worthy of winning any match.
But seconds after the restart Lazio were back in front, Zarate cracking a low finish into the bottom left after a wonderful one-two with Rocchi caught the home defence napping.
Rocchi headed Stefano Mauri’s centre just over and repaid the compliment with a super through ball to the Lazio playmaker, whose low finish was too close to Benassi.
Lecce were the next to draw blood, levelling four minutes before the break when Piatti was first to react to a loose ball on the edge of the box, driving a low shot across Muslera and into the bottom right.
The second half was similarly entertaining, with both sides attacking at will and Benassi lucky not to concede a penalty when he appeared to catch Zarate as he rounded him, the Argentine honest in staying on his feet but firing into the side netting.
Benassi was not so fortunate a few minutes later as he took Rocchi out in a similar incident, the striker flattened and the keeper shown a straight red card.
Di Michele was sacrificed for back-up keeper Antonio Rosati, who could do nothing to prevent Zarate’s clinical spot-kick nestle in the roof of the net.
10-men Lecce reacted in admirable fashion, Javier Chevanton smacking a free-kick over and Daniele Corvia fizzing a wicked drive agonisingly wide of the post with Muslera beaten.
But Lazio, kings of the counter attack, were always going to stretch the hosts and they got a fourth when Vives’s wild clearance diverted Zarate’s corner in off the crossbar.
The latter stages of the game were controlled by Lazio, who had a man and two-goal advantage and were praying for a Milan goal in Udine, although Chevanton and Gianni Munari forced good stops from Muslera as the visitors eased off.
As it happened, Udinese came closest to scoring in the other game, missing a penalty and hitting the crossbar, Milan already on their holidays as they wheeled on veteran keeper Flavio Roma for a goodbye to the fans.
Lazio’s players seemed to drift at the end, possibly realising what was going on as that game finished 0-0, knowing they were consigned to the Europa League next season.