Italian trio fired up for Europas last 32
Italian hopes of Europa League glory this season were boosted after Lazio joined former winners Inter Milan and Napoli in striding into the last 32 of the competition.
Inter Milan's 2-2 draw away to Neftci on Thursday left the Nerazzurri in second place in Group H while fellow Serie A title challengers Napoli finished second in Group F despite a 3-1 home defeat to PSV Eindhoven.
Lazio finished ahead of Tottenham to top Group J and join the last 32, when the first and second teams of all 12 groups will be joined by the eight teams who dropped out of the Champions League.
Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic sent out a second-string side away to Maribor, and was delighted with his side's efforts in a 4-1 win over the Slovenians.
"I think the lads showed their full potential tonight (Thursday) in what was an important match for us," Petkovic told Lazio Style Radio.
"Top spot is important from the point of view of prestige but it also allows us to play the first of the next two legs away and you never know which Champions League teams you could be matched up with."
Like Lazio, Napoli had already secured qualification for the next round but finished their group campaign by suffering their first home defeat in Europe this season.
Edinson Cavani scored the only goal of the game for Napoli, winners of the 1989 Uefa Cup, the forerunners to the Europa League, as the hosts succumbed to a hat-trick from Slovenian international Tim Matavz.
But, sitting only two points behind Juventus in Italy's Serie A, coach Walter Mazzarri was more concerned about maintaining their solid domestic form during Sunday's visit to Inter Milan.
"We have 12 points more in Serie A than we did at this point last season," said Mazzarri.
"It shows that everything is going in the right direction."
Mazzarri added: "In Milan, I expect an outstanding performance from the team."
Inter, too, had already qualified for the last 32 of a competition they have won, as the Uefa Cup, three times but narrowly missed victory in their final match after Neftci levelled twice.
With all eyes now on Sunday's San Siro clash against Napoli, Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni rested a number of first team regulars including goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, defender Andrea Ranocchia and forwards Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio.
Looking ahead to the next round, Stramaccioni, 36, was full of confidence - but admitted Serie A and the Italian Cup will now take centre stage.
"I'm lucky enough to coach a team which has been to all the major grounds in Europe," he told www.inter.it.
"Our aim is go all the way in this competition. Whoever we draw will be great. For now we're focusing on the league and Coppa Italia, we'll look again at Europe in February."
Joining the Italians in the next round were, notably, Liverpool, defending champions Atletico Madrid, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Newcastle, FC Basel, Lyon, and Bayer Leverkusen.
Among the notable teams joining from the Champions League are several former champions including Zenit St Petersburg and Ajax, as well as Chelsea and Benfica.
The draw for the last 32 of the competition is held on December 20, with the opening ties held on February 14-21, 2013.
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