Lazio advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time in 20 years after drawing 2-2 at home to 10-man Club Brugge on Tuesday.
Brugge midfielder Ruud Vormer canceled out Joaquţn Correa’s early opener but Ciro Immobile won and converted a penalty to restore Lazio’s lead before visiting defender Eduard Sobol was sent off at the end of the first half.
Charles De Ketelaere hit the crossbar for Brugge in stoppage time but the Belgian side had to settle for third and a place in the Europa League.
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"We all knew the importance of this match, it wasn’t easy,” Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi said. “We saw a great Lazio performance for 70 minutes and then we suffered, seeing as Brugge didn’t have anything to lose anymore.
"I’m happy to be back among the best 16 in Europe with Lazio, it’s like winning another trophy. We have always played the final stages well.”
Lazio finished second in Group F, two points above Brugge and three below already-qualified Borussia Dortmund, which won 2-1 at Zenit St. Petersburg.
"I’m happy to have passed this round with Lazio after so much time, I’m proud,” Immobile said. “This achievement has to give us more confidence for the future.
"I have to divide the credit for my goals with the team, they always put me in the right conditions to do well. Reaching the round of 16 of the Champions League for us is like winning a trophy.”
Lazio knew that it just needed to avoid defeat against Brugge to qualify for the next round for the first time since 2000-01.
But the Italian side attacked from the start and took the lead in the 12th minute when Simon Mignolet could only parry Luis Alberto’s shot and Correa tucked home the rebound.
Brugge leveled three minutes later with an almost identical goal as Pepe Reina spilled Noa Lang’s snapshot and Vormer rushed in to follow up.
Lazio restored its lead in the 27th after Clinton Mata clumsily tackled Immobile. The European Golden Shoe winner dusted himself down to stroke the resulting penalty into the bottom right corner for his 10th goal in his past nine matches.
Brugge’s chances diminished six minutes from halftime as Sobol was sent off following a second yellow card. Sobol had been fortunate to avoid a second booking five minutes earlier and it appeared as if Brugge coach Philippe Clement was about to take him off before he saw red.
Lazio surged forward after the break, trying to kill off the match as the rain poured down in Rome.
Immobile should have done so but he uncharacteristically fired over the bar.
Instead it was the undermanned Brugge which scored as Vormer turned provider with a precise cross from the right which Vanaken powerfully headed in.