Lazio have knocked Stuttgart out of the Europa League at an eerily quiet Olympic Stadium. The Italians, playing behind closed doors, made a good start after having already built up an away lead, winning 3-1 on the night.
It was never going to be easy for Stuttgart to reach the quarterfinals, having gone down 2-0 back home in Swabia.
And if they would have liked some support from the away fans, they weren't going to get it. After the racist behavior of some Lazio fans in the last round at Borussia Mönchengladbach, UEFA forced the Roman club to play behind closed doors.
For Lazio, the spooky atmosphere seemed to prove conducive to them hitting the net, at least at first.
The first of two early goals came thanks to a searching low cross on 6 minutes from the Romanian Stefan Radu. The ball was pounced upon by the Czech forward Libor Kozak, who beat the defense to slot it away past Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich.
Only two minutes later, Lazio doubled their lead on the night, when a precise diagonal ball found a flanked Kozak, who buried it high in the net past Ulreich.
While the goals were irresistibly simple and clean, they were too easily given away.
At least the Swabian fans didn't have to watch from the stadium seats as Lazio opened up the Stuttgart midfield with regular ease. Fortunately, the German side stopped leaking goals.
And Vedad Ibisevic grabbed a half chance for Stuttgart on 18 minutes as the ball bounced off a defender, but he was only able to deliver it mildly to keeper Federico Marchatti's hands. It looked as though things might go the other way a few minutes later when Brazilian Hernanes took a free kick for Lazio that was parried by Ulreich.
Trouble up front
With Stuttgart having all the work to do, Lazio - lacking an injured Miroslav Klose - were giving nothing away. The Swabians' efforts to find the net from range proved fruitless. When they came further forward, they seemed to have trouble controlling the ball in front of goal.
Meanwhile, Lazio just soaked up the pressure and hit back with a counter at the opportune moment. It was a luxury they had by now earned.
Just ahead of the break, Lazio keeper Marchetti had to be substituted for Albano Bizzarri when he was clipped in the head by the boot of an onrushing Ibisevic.
The second half saw Stuttgart get a little more grip on the game, with both sides roughly even on shots-on-goal two-thirds of the game in. So, it wasn't undeserved when Stuttgart did make their mark through Hungarian Tamas Hajnal.
After a corner from Gotoku Saki was blocked, it fell to Hajnal, who was opportunistic enough to drill it with his left foot between defenders and into the right of goal.
Prayers go unanswered
If the few Stuttgart fans who traveled to see the club practice in Rome had asked the new pope for a miracle, he wasn't having any of it.
Christian Gentner seemed to at least come close at 68 minutes, when the Swabians chased back a cleared corner into the Lazio penalty box, for Bizzarri to save.
A barrage of efforts from Stuttgart appeared to almost pay off when Georg Neidermeier got his head to the ball, only to head wide. Then the cruel final blow, as Kozak got his hat trick, heading in a nicely-placed cross from on-loan Antonio Candreva as it bounced back up.
There was to be no change, though, and - despite rallying valiantly, the Swabians finally had to accept what had become increasingly difficult to escape. A superior Lazio side would advance to the quarterfinals at their expense.
"When you go 2-0 behind so early, then of course the the whole plan goes out of the window," said Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia. "In both games we conceded goals too easily and didn’t get our defensive play right. We really didn’t earn a place in the quarterfinals."
Stuttgart had been Germany’s last contenders in the Europa League after Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover went out in the round of 32.
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