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Lazio end 20-year wait to reach Champions League knockout rounds

Rome (AFP) – Ciro Immobile scored his fifth Champions League goal this season as Lazio reached the last 16 for the first time in two decades on Tuesday with a 2-2 draw against 10-man Club Brugge.

Immobile scored Lazio’s second goal from the penalty spot at a rain-drenched Stadio Olimpico after Joaquin Correa had put the hosts ahead on 12 minutes.

Ruud Vormer had cancelled out Correa’s opener with a Hans Vanaken header on 76 minutes reviving the hopes of the visitors who played a man down after Eduard Sobol’s sending off six minutes before the break. 

Lazio finish second in Group F behind Borussia Dortmund, as they booked their spot in the knockout rounds for the first time the 1999-2000 season when they reached the quarter-finals with current coach Simone Inzaghi a player on the team.

Ex-Italy striker Inzaghi lifted his former side back into the elite European competition after a 13-year absence this campaign thanks to their fourth-place finish in Serie A last season.

In Rome, Lazio needed to remain unbeaten to qualify against Club Brugge with the two teams having played out a 1-1 draw on October 28.

Immobile missed that game in Belgium and also a 1-1 draw at Zenit, because of positive coronavirus tests.

Despite just needing a draw, Inzaghi’s side were pushing for all three points to finish top of the group.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic threatened early by getting his head to a Francesco Acerbi cross after just five minutes.

Simon Mignolet held firm, but seven minutes later the Belgian goalkeeper was beaten, parrying Luis Alberto’s low shot only for Correa to tap in.

At the other end of the pitch, a fumble from Lazio keeper Pepe Reina saw the visitors pull level three minutes later, the Spaniard spilling a Noa Lang effort straight into the path of Vormer.

Immobile got Lazio’s second from the spot after 27 minutes, sending Mignolet the wrong way after Clinton Mata fouled the Lazio striker.

It was the 30-year-old’s fifth goal in four Champions League matches this season.

Brugge were hampered after Sobol picked up a second yellow card for a foul on midfielder Manuel Lazzari.

Milinkovic-Savic sent wide after the break with Immobile missing a golden opportunity to kill off the game, shooting over the bar with quarter of an hour to go.

Just after Vanaken pulled Brugge level as he nodded in a Vormer cross, setting up a tense final quarter of an hour as Lazio clung on for the crucial point.

Charles De Ketelaere came close to grabbing a late winner which would have put the Belgians through, his shot rattling the crossbar.

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