Christian Zapata scored an own goal two minutes from time to hand Lazio a 3-2 victory over Udinese in a thrilling match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico today. The win took Lazio to within three points of leaders AC Milan, who were beaten 1-0 at home by Roma yesterday.
Lazio had taken the lead twice already in the match through Hernanes and Giuseppe Biava but were pegged back on each occasion by Alexis Sanchez and then German Denis. But Zapata inadvertantly headed a corner past his own goalkeeper under pressure from Libor Kozak to give the home fans a pre-Christmas treat.
Lazio captain Stefano Mauri insisted his team deserved their lofty league standing. "It was a strange game. We struggled a lot but Udinese showed they're a great team," he said. Even so, we're going well although we need to improve a lot because today we conceded some terrible goals. We deserve to be where we are, if we're second it's not by luck."
Lazio were off to a dream start as Brazilian Hernanes gave them the lead after just two minutes, squeezing a shot from 20 yards inside the post from Tommaso Rocchi's pass, although Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was perhaps taken by surprise. That sparked Udinese into life and they went on to dominate for the next 20 minutes.
Ghana midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah shot wide when well placed and then Antonio Di Natale was sent scampering away behind the Lazio defence on the left but as he cut in and let fly, he strangely opted to shoot with his right foot and dragged his effort wide.
Moments later Sanchez played the overlapping Mauricio Isla into the box on the right but he shot wide of the far post with Di Natale screaming in vain for a cross. Udinese's wing-backs were heavily involved and Isla then crossed for Pablo Armero who somehow contrived to miss the target from inside the six yard box.
Lazio gradually came back into the game and on 22 minutes Handanovic saved a low strike from Mauro Zarate. A few minutes later Hernanes beat the Slovenia goalkeeper for the second time but his shot crashed back off the bar. And at the end of the half Lazio should have scored on the counter attack but Stephan Lichsteiner's initial shot was weak and repelled by Handanovic who then held on to Hernanes's equally soft folow-up.
Udinese were back on the attack after the break as Isla crossed for Asamoah who was crowded out at the near post. However, on 49 minutes the visitors were level as Lazio's defence went to sleep. Di Natale crossed from the right and Sanchez, one of the smallest players on the pitch, ghosted into the six yard box to head home unmarked.
And yet three minutes later Lazio were back in front as Biava volleyed home from close range after Andre Dias headed a corner back into the danger area. The lead did not last long, though, as Di Natale crossed from the right again and substitute German Denis headed home from 15 yards with Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera wrong-footed.
Di Natale at one end and Zarate at the other had shots off target but then Handanovic had to quickly back-peddle and tip over a deflected Hernanes shot. Muslera saved a chip from Di Natale and Handanovic parried a Stefano Mauri volley before Zapata's unfortunate late intervention handed the hosts the points.